David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Heart told Kiwis debutant Jordan Rapana to choose black and white over green and gold

Porirua-born, Gold Coast-bred Canberra Raiders wing Jordan Rapana will make his test debut for the Kiwis against the Kangaroos in Perth tonight. Photo / Getty.
Porirua-born, Gold Coast-bred Canberra Raiders wing Jordan Rapana will make his test debut for the Kiwis against the Kangaroos in Perth tonight. Photo / Getty.

David Skipwith reveals what made Canberra Raiders wing Jordan Rapana aim for the Kiwis over the Kangaroos.

Jordan Rapana went through an identity crisis before his heart told him to choose the black and white of New Zealand over the green and gold of Australia.

Rapana will make his test debut for the Kiwis in tonight's transtasman league test against the Kangaroos in Perth after he abandoned a childhood dream of playing for the All Blacks and turned down the chance to play State of Origin for Queensland.

The Porirua-born, Gold Coast-bred Canberra Raiders wing was forced to make some hard decisions and even defied his mother's wishes before declaring his allegiance to New Zealand.

"I'm a very proud Kiwi and even though I didn't spend too many years there, I know my roots, don't worry," said Rapana.

"I'm not the heartiest Kiwi but I have a lot of passion.

"I had a lot of people saying 'what are you doing' but it was my decision and my heart is with the Kiwis jersey.

"You can take the boy out of New Zealand but you can't take New Zealand out of the boy.
"Mum wasn't too happy but obviously it would mean a lot more to wear the Kiwis jersey than a Queensland jersey. She's been stuck in Aussie too long."

Rapana has taken the long route to the big time and at 27 years old is something of a late bloomer in an era when future internationals are usually identified at a young age.

Rapana and Canberra Raiders teammate Joseph Tapine share a laugh at the Kiwis captain's run at Nib Stadium on Friday. Photo / Photosport.
Rapana and Canberra Raiders teammate Joseph Tapine share a laugh at the Kiwis captain's run at Nib Stadium on Friday. Photo / Photosport.

After making his NRL debut for the Titans as a teenager in 2008 and scoring five tries in five games he left the game to embark on a two-year Mormon mission to England and Wales.

On returning to Australia he tried his luck in Super Rugby but failed to play a game while contracted to the Western Force before a 2013 training stint with the Brumbies ended with him winning a start across town and back in the 13-man code with the Green Machine.

Some solid if unspectacular performances gave no indication of the red hot form Rapana was to enjoy this year, as he scorched in for 23 tries to break a 22-year-old Raiders record held by club greats Noa Nadruku (1993), Brett Mullins and Jason Croker (both 1994).

Rapana credits his less-than-rapid rise for keeping him grounded and an awareness of his fortunate position as a first grade footballer for helping him fulfil his playing potential.

"During that time, I was just playing local club footy and needed to do some work on the side so was doing a bit of security and bar tending and whatever was needed to get by," he explains of his early days in Canberra.

"Being back in the NRL I've really taken the opportunity and just appreciated it a lot more just purely on the fact that I know what life is like without having this lifestyle.

"I'm just really enjoying my footy. I'd put it down to that and I'm just taking my opportunities as they come."

His flamboyant combination with right-edge centre Joey Leilua saw the pair tagged "Leipana" by gushing commentators and their free-wheeling attacking exploits became essential viewing even for fans of rival clubs as the Raiders charged to within one game of the grand final.

Their almost intuitive understanding caused endless headaches for opposing defenders and was best typified when Leilua was turned around in a tackle before throwing an audacious around-the-back flick pass for his winger to run in one of the tries of the season in the Raiders round 26 thumping of Wests Tigers.

"I owe probably 95 per cent of my tries to Joey," he said.

"There was someone on the inside and he could have just handed it off and made it a lot easier but Joey being Joey, he has to make the hard look easy.

"He's a freak of a player and we work well together.

"When he's going to do something I just know where to be and you've just got to expect the unexpected."

Kangaroos coach and three-time Canberra premiership winning captain Mal Meninga had hoped Rapana would swing towards playing for his beloved Maroons and Australia and has no doubts the Kiwis will benefit from his inclusion.

Leilua, the Dally M centre of the year, came close to earning a place in the Kangaroos squad but a hamstring injury suffered in the Raiders preliminary final loss to the Melbourne cruelled his test dream.

"The Kiwis have got a good side and Jordan will obviously fit into that really well," said Meninga.

"His year has been exceptional. He and Joey are very dangerous and hard to defend against because they're unpredictable and their work rates are very high.

"You might tackle them once but you've got to tackle them two or three times in a row sometimes so it makes it difficult."

Joining Rapana in camp with the Kiwis is young Raiders back-rower Joseph Tapine, who has also won inclusion on an extended bench for tonight's nib Stadium showdown in Perth.

Most of the other Kiwis players were relative strangers.

However, Rapana is pleased to earn selection alongside his old Palm Beach Currumbin high school teammate and Melbourne Storm back-rower Kevin Proctor.

"I grew up playing with him so it's pretty cool to be in the same side as him, one of my good mates.

"It has been a long time coming for me and it has always been a dream of
mine.

"To be finally selected in that squad to go away is obviously a dream come true so I'm absolutely stoked and ready and raring to play," said Rapana.

"I'm bloody over the moon really."

Jordan Rapana
Born: August 15, 1989.
Height: 1.87m.
Weight: 100kg.
Position: Wing/fullback.
Representative honours: New Zealand Maori (2008), three tests for Cook Islands (2013-2015).
Previous clubs: Gold Coast Titans (2008).
NRL debut: Titans v Roosters, Sydney Football Stadium, round 18, 2008.
Raiders debut: Canberra v Parramatta, TIO Stadium, round 22, 2014.
Junior football: Palm Beach Currumbin High School, Tugun Sea Hawks.

- NZ Herald

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