Halfback Jamal Fogarty has backed ‘once in a lifetime player’ Jordan Rapana to slide into the No.1 jersey with a minimum of fuss in the absence of Xavier Savage.
The 33-year-old Kiwi has played nine games at fullback across the past four seasons and finds himself there again this weekend after Savage suffered a broken jaw in Moruya in round one of the Pre-Season Challenge.
With Savage set to be sidelined for up to eight weeks, Fogarty is confident the 180-game veteran will ease seamlessly into the spine ahead of their first full-team hit out this weekend.
“I think Raps (Rapana) can do the job there, we’ve seen it before last year when he’s gone back a couple of times to play fullback,” Fogarty told media during pre-season training.
“Raps is once in a lifetime footballer. He’s so carefree - so many other players worry and stress about things where Rapa just goes out and plays football.
“And to be honest he’s never holding the wing anyway, he’s always roaming around so it probably suits him very well.”
Coach Ricky Stuart is spoilt for choice with utility backs capable of filling the No.1 jersey with the likes of Albert Hopoate and Harley Smith-Shields both experienced in the position.
Fogarty has faith in the Raiders' depth but he admits it did sting losing Savage after the pair had just completed their first pre-season as part of Stuart's first-choice spine.
Match Highlights: Raiders v Bulldogs
“It’s not ideal, myself and Xav (Savage) have worked really hard over the pre-season to get that combination going to get a steady start to the season,” he said.
“Losing him we're kind of back to square one with a new fullback but we’ve got players here and the right coaching staff to get ready for the early rounds.”
The hard-running Rapana proved his worth at fullback for the Māori All Stars in 2022, topping the run metres (156) and breaking seven tackles in a 16-10 win, before returning to the wing for this year's game in Rotorua.
Fellow outside back Matt Timoko is another Raider in no doubt that Rapana can acquit himself well at fullback against Wests Tigers with Nick Cotric and Smith-Shields filling the wing spots.
“Raps is a very experienced player, you can chuck him anywhere and he will definitely do his job,” Timoko said.
“I’m keen to go out there and play with him. It’s been a couple of months.
“It is a big blow having Sav out because he was our number one fullback from the start of pre-season and he’s been training well there.
"But at the same time, we’ve got to keep moving forward and not dwell on the setbacks.”
Match: Wests Tigers v Raiders
Round 2 -
Venue: Belmore Sports Ground, Sydney