Nine days before the Raiders 2021 NRL season kicks off, a relaxed Jordan Rapana takes a seat in the shade from the harsh midday sun at Raiders HQ, sitting against the wall facing out onto their pristine training paddock.
Throughout the interview his teammates intermittently tap on the glass to put him off his game.
Despite the occasional distraction, the media experience that comes with being a star player shines through as he generously answers the questions put to him.
On the back of his first full pre-season in four years, Rapana said he’s feeling fresh and ready to go prior to their 2021 NRL season kicking off against the Tigers at home this Sunday 14 March.
“This is the first time in a long time I’ve had a full pre-season under my belt; my body feels fit and healthy,” he said.
“In the long run as it gets down later in the season, I think all that hard running and hard work you put in over the pre-season comes into play.”
In 2019 he spent the summer rehabbing a dislocated shoulder he suffered representing New Zealand, while last year he returned to the Raiders during the COVID hiatus after his stint in Japanese rugby was cut short.
“I came back last year almost eight kilos overweight, and it was a lot tougher doing it that way than coming back at the right weight.”
After having a mortgage on the Raiders number five jersey for a good five seasons, last year saw Rapana shuffle around from bench back rower to centre to fullback.
Ahead of the 2021 season, injuries permitting Rapana hopes he can enjoy more positional stability.
“Ideally my position is wing so I’d like to play there as much as I can this year,” he said.
“I’ve been training both sides; I don’t mind what side I play on. Where the other wing is, wherever he is most comfortable I’m happy to play on the other side.”
Rapana’s been named to play this Sunday against the Tigers on the right wing outside Curtis Scott after playing on the left wing outside Seb Kris in their trial match against the Roosters late February.
Rapana has established himself as a lynchpin of the Raiders since joining midway through 2013.
Having been front and centre as head coach Ricky Stuart has rebuilt the club’s roster, he said this is “by far” the strongest he’s seen the Green Machine depth wise.
“This is the hungriest, not only for players like me who have been around longer, but even just the young boys, the drive and the competitiveness at training.
“Those narrow misses we’ve had, last season was a very tough one with the injuries we had, 2019 losing that grand final still haunts me.
“When I get to the end of my career I want to be able to say I won a comp, especially with these boys.”
Rapana said the club has undergone transformational change under Stuart’s tutelage to get to the point it is today.
“It was a club where no one wanted to come and sign, but now because of the brand of footy we play, the culture we have and the place Canberra is, it’s a place players want to come to.
“He took players who at the time were young and turned them into leaders like (Josh Papalii), Elliott (Whitehead) and Jack Wighton.
“That comes back to the culture that Sticky’s driven here.”
Being part of a core group of players that Stuart has assembled over his six seasons as coach, Rapana said the close bonds he shares with his teammates off the field “goes a long way” on it.
“We’re all mates, we’re the closest of mates on and off the field,” he said. “Any team or any sport when you have strong mates and a tight group it shows.”
Rapana said he’s been extremely impressed by the next generation of emerging outside backs coming through the ranks led by Bailey Simonsson and including Harley Smith-Shields, Matt Timoko, Seb Kris and Albert Hopoate.
“We train every single day with each other … I’m always here to share my experience and knowledge where I can,” he said.
“The good thing about our younger boys as well is they’re very humble and always willing to learn.
“If they keep with that attitude, they’ll go a long way and have great careers.”
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