After just a few weeks with the Kiwis, Jordan Rapana is already one of the confirmed card sharks on the team.

Card games are one way to pass the time on the regular bus journeys, and the Raiders winger has shown his prowess.

"I've cleaned up a couple of times," jokes Rapana. "We are not playing for much but it is always nice to win...some bragging rights."

Although new to the national side, Rapana has fitted in well. He's been quickly accepted into the environment, and more importantly has performed on the field, with three tries in his first three tests.


Such success validates his difficult decision earlier this year, when he decided to opt for the Kiwis over an opportunity to play for Queensland, even going against the wishes of his mother and some of his family. Rapana was born in Porirua but had lived in Australia since the age of 12, when his parents emigrated to the Gold Coast.

"For me it puts the icing on the cake," said Rapana. "I was always going to be a lot more passionate wearing the black and white jersey and meeting these boys and seeing the culture here really does justify the decision. It's a dream come true; I'm really enjoying it and making the most of it."

Rapana had an incredible NRL season, crossing for 23 tries to break the Raiders' season record, previously held by Canberra luminaries Brett Mullins, Noa Nadruku and Jason Croker. Aside from crossing the try line, he also proved a valuable all round player, running for more than 130 metres a game and making 27 line breaks.

But breakout NRL success doesn't always translate to the test arena. Curtis Rona is the most recent example, as struggled to make the step up last year, not making the Kiwis test team despite a marquee year for the Bulldogs in 2015.

Test football is a different beast, as much mental as physical and without the spaces and free flowing play we see in the NRL. Even for wingers, it is often a battle at close quarters, especially on the tight English grounds.

Rapana has thrived. His second half try against England was a spectacular effort, leaving three defenders in his wake after being put in a hole by Manu M'au. Earlier he had showed poise to dot down in the first half, off a pass that wasn't easy to take. Rapana continued his form last week against Australia, with a first half intercept that should have gained greater profit, then his 77th minute try.

But perhaps his most telling contribution came late in the first half against the Kangaroos, when he conjured up a determined escape from his own in-goal, after being seemingly pinned by three Australian defenders.

Rapana's style of play reflects his unlikely journey to the black and white V. An early prodigy at the Titans, a Mormon mission, an unsuccessful shot at rugby and time spent playing club football in the back of beyond, where he did odd jobs - including spells as a barman and a barber - to make ends meet, before his breakthrough 2015 season in Canberra.

Having had to fight and scrap for every opportunity, Rapana isn't going to die wondering, or let any game pass him by.

"I've always had the motto [that] if I decide to do something, I put my head down and do it at 110 per cent, 110 miles an hour," said Rapana. "It's the way I am and probably shows on the field too, similar to how I play. I try not to live with any regrets. It's about living in the moment and making the most of it."

Truly the ace in the pack.

Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand rugby league since 1981