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Bouncing back: How ex-Maroon Napa can regain bruising best

As part of our series of articles on players aiming for a bounce-back year in 2021, Troy Whittaker profiles a former Queensland enforcer.

Canterbury now have a star-studded backline thanks to a strong recruitment drive, but they'll need their forward pack to stand up if they're to push for the finals.

Leading the charge through the middle will be Dylan Napa, the red-headed prop who's got plenty of personal motivation having been left out of Queensland's victorious Origin squad in November.

Joining the Bulldogs in 2019, a year after winning the competition with the Roosters, 28-year-old Napa hasn't quite been the explosive force he was during his time in the red, white and blue.

In fairness to Napa, it must have been challenging to maintain his level of impact when going from a champion team to one of the competition's perennial cellar dwellers of recent years.

Perhaps a change in coach and some fellow high-profile players in support could spark Napa to his best this season, where his aggression and metres up front will be crucial to Canterbury's hopes.

Statistical peak

Napa's never been the type to produce 80-minute ironman performances, but he's still been a hard worker for the Bulldogs. His metre output has been healthy, averaging 116m last year (fourth-highest in career) and 130m in 2019 (best return in career).

Given he mainly occupied a bench spot at the Roosters and is now a starting mainstay, his minutes have steadily increased. He went from 41 minutes in 2018, to 48.7 the following year, and then 53.9 in 2020 – his second-highest yearly average so far.

However, unlike in 2016 when he averaged 56.9 minutes per game, Napa hasn't provided as much impetus. He recorded 40 tackle breaks (1.7 per game) that year but just 10 (0.65 per game) in 2020.

The seven-time Maroon's influence can't be measured in stats alone; his game has often included momentum-turning big hits, squaring off with an opposition enforcer or a line-bending carry.

However, his defence clearly dropped off in 2019, with a career-high 76 missed tackles (3.8 per game). But he's gone some way to rectifying that, lowering his rate to 2.6 misses per game last year (40 overall). He averaged 2.5 misses per game for the Roosters in 2018.

Napa's recent stats have been solid, but his output is still below other representative-calibre props like Payne Haas, Addin Fonua-Blake, Reagan Campbell Gillard, Junior Paulo and Josh Papalii, who average in excess of 150 metres per match.

There's no denying Napa's ability, but for him to earn back his Queensland jumper and spearhead a Canterbury finals assault, he must push his numbers to the elite standard or recapture his impact of old.