If there was one position that underwent a series of interruptions in 2021 it was fullback, with the Raiders forced to make several changes and movements, mainly through injury.
The Raiders used five players at fullback in 2021, with an injury to first-choice fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad early in the season providing an opportunity for two club debuts as well as two familiar faces to have a run at the back.
Nicoll-Klokstad started the year strongly, helping the Raiders to three wins from their first five games of the season before suffering a neck injury in Round 5 against the Panthers.
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He required surgery and was initially ruled out for the rest of the year, but was able to make a comeback in the late stages of the season. Nicoll-Klokstad played two games off the bench in Rounds 23 and 24, before returning to his regular fullback position for the final match of the season against the Roosters.
Caleb Aekins replaced Nicoll-Klokstad in Round 6, making his club debut at fullback. He went on to play the next seven games at fullback for the club.
Bailey Simonsson moved from his usual wing position into fullback in Round 14 and played three games at the back before suffering a toe injury in the Raiders loss to the Titans in Round 16.
Simonsson’s injury provided Xavier Savage with an opportunity to make his official debut in Round 17 against the Sea Eagles, after a false start as a reserve against the Dragons in Round 15.
Savage showed plenty of promise in his two matches at fullback, before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season.
Enter Jordan Rapana. As reliable as ever, Rapana slotted into the fullback position with ease. He was a game changer from the outset, making a try-saving tackle on Maika Sivo in the final seconds to win the match against the Eels in his first game at fullback in Round 19.
Rapana’s run at fullback saw him pick up several votes with a string of man of the match performances, which resulted in him being named the 2021 Meninga Medal winner.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s return at the end of the season showed enough to suggest he’d be the leading candidate to start the 2022 season at the back for the Green Machine.