Rapana on the brink of Raiders history
Canberra Raiders right-edge duo Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua have been hard to separate this season.
Great mates off the field, 'Leipana' as they have been dubbed have struck up an incredible combination on it.
The duo have combined for an astounding 33 tries, 258 tackle breaks and 6888 metres for the Raiders in 2016.
They played so well that even their coach Ricky Stuart couldn't separate them, rewarding both men with the Coaches Award at the Mal Meninga Medal presentation night last Monday.
Yet as the Raiders prepare for their preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night, Rapana will have the chance to finally best his teammate.
Rapana's try late in the first half of his side's 22-12 semi-final win over the Panthers last weekend was his 22nd of the season – matching the club record.
It's a feat not reached since Jason Croker and Brett Mullins scored 22 times each in the Raiders' premiership-winning season of 1994, and Rapana now has the chance to overtake two club legends against the Storm.
"I wouldn't have imagined it happening two years ago. I was struggling to make the team and was nowhere near cementing a spot," Rapana told NRL.com.
"Personal achievements are awesome. But honestly, man. I could score 10 tries or zero and I won't be fussed by it. I want to make sure I'm just taking my opportunities."
Coincidentally Rapana brought up the club record thanks to an inch-perfect grubber kick from Leilua – reaffirming the positive nature of their partnership.
But they know exactly when to be hard on one another too, especially if they're not performing to the level they now expect from one another.
"We give each other the look now. It started verbally but as we have become closer we just give each other a nod or a look just so they know we shouldn't have done what we may have done wrong," Rapana said.
"We're good mates. We clicked straight away. Playing outside of him has helped that.
"We push each other all the time. We're not idiots to each other. It's all positive criticism. He knows when he's stuffed up and vice versa."
Rapana went into the last pre-season with no guarantees of clinching an NRL spot, and plenty of eyebrows were raised when Stuart picked the Cook Islands international over veteran three-quarter Sisa Waqa for Round 1.
Now Raiders fans couldn't imagine a world without Rapana posing opposition teams plenty of problems.
The 27-year-old winger said Leilua played a crucial role in convincing Stuart to pick and stick with him throughout the year.
"I wanted to cement that wing spot so [Leilua and I] knew having a good relationship off the field would influence it on the field. We're pretty fortunate for that," Rapana said.
"I really worked hard in the off-season to make sure I earned my spot. To keep Sisa Waqa out of this team, it shows Ricky has belief in me and it gave me confidence to have a really good season to back it up."