New Zealand-born NRL star Jordan Rapana is reportedly deep in negotiations with Top League side Panasonic Wild Knights to make a shock code switch to rugby union.
The 11-test Kiwis winger, who plies his trade for the Canberra Raiders, is likely to join the Robbie Deans-coached Wild Knights, according to the Sun-Herald.
Coming off contract at the end of this season, the Raiders tabled an offer in an attempt to retain the services of the 30-year-old, but, due to salary cap restraints, the contract offer is paltry is comparison to what Rapana could earn while playing union outside of Australia.
A move to Japan to join Panasonic wouldn’t be the first time the 2017 Dally M winger of the year has forayed into rugby union.
After debuting in the NRL with the Gold Coast Titans in 2008, Rapana took a two-year break from rugby league to serve a Mormon mission in England and Wales.
However, he take to the field at all for the Perth-based club, and instead played for local side Palmyra in the Western Australia club competition.
A move to Canberra beckoned in 2013 as Rapana eyed a contract with the Brumbies, but he was spotted by the Raiders while playing for the Queanbeyan Blues in the Canberra Raiders Cup and was handed a two-year deal.
Since then, he has gone on to represent New Zealand and the Cook Islands across two Rugby League World Cups, and has become an integral figure at the Raiders, forming a formidable partnership with fellow wing Joey Leilua.
His potential move to the Top League further emphasises the financial lure that Japanese club rugby has for top-class players throughout the rugby codes following this year’s World Cup.
The recruitment of the duo bolsters an already imposing roster, which features 17 Japanese internationals, as well as ex-Wallabies Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane and Daniel Heenan.
Elsewhere throughout Japan, clubs have thrown money at a range of stars around the southern hemisphere in recent months, with the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper (both Kintetsu Liners), Brodie Retallick (Kobelco Steelers), Kieran Read (Toyota Verblitz), Samu Kerevi (Suntory Sungoliath), Liam Squire (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes), Ryan Crotty (Kubota Spears), Christian Lealiifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs) and Jackson Hemopo (Mitsubishi DynaBoars) among those heading to the Far East next year.
The acquisition of Rapana would add depth to the quality evident within the Japanese club rugby scene, and be a significant loss for the Raiders – for whom he has scored 69 tries in 110 outings – New Zealand rugby league and the NRL.
He was rested in Canberra’s 24-20 final round defeat to the Warriors at GIO Stadium on Saturday, but is expected to play in next week’s quarter-final clash with the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park.
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