Tigers duo brace for 'Leipana' challenge
Canberra Raiders duo Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana are rated one of the best centre-wing combinations in the game but the NRL's most inexperienced pairing is up for the challenge on Sunday afternoon.
The combination known to Raiders fans as "Leipana" scored six tries between them in last April's 60-6 demolition of the Wests Tigers, before following it up with three more four-pointers on the same edge in their 52-10 demolition of the joint venture in the final round of the regular season at Leichhardt Oval.
Tigers outside backs Michael Chee-Kam and Moses Suli may only have 14 Telstra Premiership games of experience between them but that doesn't faze Chee Kam, who is ready to embrace the challenge head-on as he comes up against his former club for only the second time in his career.
"These are the blokes you want to play against," Chee-Kam said.
"It's who you want to test yourself against to see how you're going.
"That's still in the back of our heads for most of us (the heavy defeat in Round 26).
"It's a big test for me and Moses, but we're both looking forward to the challenge coming up against players like that.
"Being with Moses too on that edge has been great… he's still only 18 with a big body.
"I think he's going to be a future star with what he's done already.
"I got to play there (Canberra) a couple of years ago (for Manly). They never had the viking clap back then but it was still daunting."
The 25-year-old has been somewhat of a journeyman throughout his career, starting off at the Melbourne Storm before joining the Raiders in 2010 and then linking with Manly three years later, where he made his NRL debut against the Cowboys in 2014.
Injury and limited opportunities behind an impressive Sea Eagles line-up forced Chee-Kam to again look elsewhere, and he now finds himself starting at centre in Jason Taylor's side for only the fourth time in his career.
"I've been around the first-grade scene for about five years now and just to now be part of the week-in-week-out grind now is what I've worked hard for," Chee-Kam said.
"I feel blessed and I still pinch myself every day when I wake up.
"I just want to keep improving each week and developing that consistency too."
Off-contract at season's end, Chee-Kam isn't the only player in the Wests Tigers line-up set to take on their former club with Matt McIlwrick and Joel Edwards also spending time in the nation's capital prior to their move to Concord.
McIlwrick joined the Tigers this season after making his NRL debut for the Raiders in 2012, before a brief stint at the Sharks where he played two games – including a 30-14 defeat to the green machine in Round 22 last season.
"I'm loving it… I live five minutes up the road so it's easy for me," McIlwrick said.
"To get the opportunity to play against my old club – and I know Ricky Stuart will have the boys fired up – I'm still mates with a few of those boys and can't wait to rip in.
"Their edges are fantastic and Jarrod Croker is back from injury which is good to see for him.
"We'll probably focus more on ourselves. We were a bit disappointing on the weekend so if we can fix up our game the rest will take care of itself.
“It's a good challenge for us in the middle."