Joe Tapine will ignore any lingering pain from three cracked ribs to stand toe-to-toe with all 200 centimetres and 115 kilos of the biggest human in the NRL, having been sin-binned for just that a month ago.
Tapine will return after a three-week layoff for Canberra to face Melbourne and his New Zealand Test teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The pair go back to their Junior Kiwi days as teenagers but squared off midway through the Raiders' recent 22-18 upset of the Storm, Tapine given 10 minutes to cool off for landing a shot to Asofa-Solomona’s face before Canberra sensationally clawed back an 18-0 deficit.
Tapine copped a $1150 fine for contrary conduct and hasn’t played since due to injury, but the sin-binning was labelled “ridiculous” by eighth Immortal Andrew Johns in commentary given Asofa-Solomon started the scuffle.
Tapine says he will gladly let Asofa-Solomona “shove me in the face all day this time” as he anticipates another fiery encounter in the Raiders’ return to finals football.
“He didn’t say anything much to get me, but I didn’t choose him, he chose me!” Tapine laughed when asked why he took on the biggest opponent possible in the game.
Tapine throws punch and is sent to the bin
“But we had spoken about not letting them get over us or push us around. That’s a big thing I take on board as a forward and that’s my job, making sure we match anyone for aggression and intensity.
“He’s a good mate of mine actually and we hugged it out straight away after the game so it was all sweet straight away, no dramas.
“At the time though I had got a couple of messages ‘don’t let them push us around’ going around my head.
“I got pushed in the scrum and I pushed him back. It was a pretty stupid decision at the time, we were down 18-0. Obviously I don’t want to repeat that, but we won’t be taking a backwards step either.”
Tapine’s cracked ribs came in the same contest and he had originally planned to push through the pain to play against the Roosters until scans revealed three fractures.
Having endured a frustrating 12 months interrupted by a broken thumb, lengthy ankle injury and his latest rib issue, Tapine pushed Ricky Stuart to bring him back last week against the Warriors, only for the Canberra coach to keep him on ice for a finals return.
The return trip to Melbourne will also see the Storm’s reputation for wrestling in the ruck in focus once more, with skipper Cameron Smith issued a concerning act notice for roughing up the ears of Raiders rookie Bailey Simonsson in round 22.
Storm v Raiders - Qualifying Final
Smith this week once more went on the record vehemently denying the claims aired by Stuart after that game, with criticism of the Storm’s ruck tactics by Souths football boss Shane Richardson also fanning the flames over the past month.
Tapine though doesn’t recall anything particularly untoward from his last showdown with the minor premiers, but is preparing for a typically physical clash up front with Saturday’s winner progressing through to a grand final qualifier.
“I think Melbourne has a reputation for all the wrestling and that, but I don’t think it’s their thing,” Tapine said.
“If they weren’t such a good team I don’t think we’d hear so much about it. It’s an easy thing to criticise about a good team.
Finals Snapshot: Raiders
“I didn’t really notice anything like that last time we played. And now it’s finals. Every team is going to lift this week so I’d say there will be more of everything.
“It’ll be fiery. There will be more contact, more everything, it’ll be faster and there will be more intensity than a regular game.
“I’m looking forward to it because we haven’t played these games since 2016, the last few years we’ve just watched them and it’s been some tough years so it’s good to be back.”