Jordan Rapana has always specialised in the impossible. His career shouldn’t have happened. He shouldn’t have been able to play with a broken skull. He never should have been a star, a legend, and one of the best to ever do it. By all rights at 33 he should be done, but instead he’s just signed on for another year. Jordy beats the odds. Again.
He’s done it his whole career. Forgotten by league after he left to complete his mission. Overlooked even within his own squad, struggling through 2013 and 2014 to get regular time ahead of rugby league legends like Matt Allwood, Jeremy Hawkins, the Lee cousins, Bill Tupou and Sami Sauiluma. Rapana has proven me, Ricky Stuart, and everyone else along the way wrong in his pathway towards becoming the arguably greatest winger in Canberra history (it’s a two person argument with Chicka Ferguson and Rapa has longevity for the Milk on his side).
In signing yet another extension he’s still proving people wrong. Another year, another mile on a body that has stacked them on in recent years. He shouldn’t be able to at this at this age. Not the way he plays. That fury should have burned out years ago. The injuries should have caught up with him. The extra miles at centre, or at fullback, should have taken their toll. Leaving the game at the start of the pandemic. Yeah he might have slowed down, but that will, that belief, that rage at the opposition, the ground, the ball, literally anything between him and the try line remains.
From the quotes attributable to Rapana, and to the club it may be the last contract he signs. But we shouldn’t get so far ahead of ourselves. In fact suggesting that at all feels presumptuous and risky given all we the collective rugby league world have gotten wrong about Rapa over the years. We misinterpreted the lack of stand-out athletic talents, the sheer bloody-mindedness of what he achieved, the fact that he seemed to be constantly red-lining, as though they were faults rather than features of the system. We saw a man who played on with a broken head and wrongly thought “maybe it didn’t hurt that much” when we should have thought “the man is a maniac, our maniac. The best kind of maniac.”
Because that’s why he’s great. He isn’t faster than anyone. He might not be the biggest, the tallest, or the strongest. But what Rapana does better than anyone is be completely separate from reality. To be the craziest man on the field. To see opportunities that no one else does. To not just know that pain is temporary, chicks dig scars, and glory is forever, but embrace it as a personal philosophy like your brother-in-law did crypto. He will run into a set defensive line, bouncing off tackles and slipping between defenders. Then he’ll do it again. And again. Each time finding space, a quick ruck, or something more. He’ll pop up on the wrong side of a field to help out a try scoring movement, just because he realised something was coming that no one else saw. All the time running with the enthusiasm of a small child who’s just been told there’s cake.
There are so many highlights that people will remember – chasing down the Blake Austin grubber against Manly in 2017. The 40-20 that he chose to kick because he decided someone needed to make something happen. Daddy four tries as part of the 2016 Josh Hodsgon classic, where he cemented a burgeoning relationship with BJ Leilua that would become a cornerstone of the Raiders attack for the next few years. The number of times he’s scored from dummy half because six of the biggest dudes on the field were powerless to stop him.
But for me it’s the consistency of effort. The madness he runs with, stomping the ground like it’s his job to flatten it. The fact that he’s not just red-lining, but always red-lining. There isn’t a game you walk away and wonder if he could have given more, and at this stage of his career I sometimes find myself wondering if he should give less. But that’s just normal for him, as it is for him to see something no one else does, and make it happen.
Nothing effects him. Not the mistake he just made. Not the pain he must feel. And he’s still doing it like that. At 33 he is still the most reliable wing option the club has, still is a brilliant ball-runner, and liable to involve himself in something amazing at the drop of a hat. He’s averaging near three tackle breaks a game, still cranking out elite yardage carries that somehow turn around disadvantageous positions because he simply refuses to be cleanly tackled. He remains a triumph.
Before the season we wondered when Father Time would come for Rapana. He won’t win this battle, but right now he’s staring into his face, ball secure and about to lay that sweet left palm straight into the big guy’s chest. Younger players should be coming for his spot, but they can’t match the intensity, the brilliance, the sheer desire to fight every battle on his own terms. With another year at the club maybe it’s one last battle. It’s an impossible task, but that’s what Jordan Rapana specialises in.
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Really.enjoyed that Dan. Perfect summation of Rapa. Imagine having 17 of Rapa in your squad. Hope he hangs around when his career finishes. Great mentor and role model for all. He has taken Mal’s spot as my favorite raider of all time.
Hope you’re feeling better soon. Kicking Manly’s arse Sunday should fix your lurgy.