It’s no secret that Canberra’s right edge pairing of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana has been magical throughout the first half of the NRL season.
Dubbed “Leipana”, the electrifying pair have starred on highlight reels around the country thanks to their stunning on-field exploits.
“Railua… that’s a good one hey!” beams Leilua.
“Railua. I just thought of that on the spot, see how I got it! I’m a nicknamer.”
THE HOME GROUND: See this story on the Raiders website.
It’s easy to forget, but the partnership between Leilua and Rapana is really only in its infancy. Leilua joined the Raiders from the Knights midway through the 2015 season, and his first impressions weren’t great, serving two suspensions for shoulder charges.
With Rapana fighting to maintain a starting spot in the line-up, the dynamic duo only played four games together in 2015.
Fast forward to 2016 and Leilua again found himself in hot water after a lifting tackle during the Raiders’ Round Two win over the Roosters. The City Origin representative spent two weeks on the sidelines with many Raiders fans questioning why he was recently re-signed until the end of 2018. Those question marks have all but evaporated now.
Since round five against the Bulldogs the duo has found themselves at the centrepiece of highlight reels across the country.
It’s been a remarkable rise for the self-confessed best mates who have known each other for less than a year.
Rapana has fond memories of the first time Leilua arrived at Raiders HQ.
“He had a girly haircut, it was real long. And I was like, ‘who’s this crackerjack?’ But yeah, I got to know him and started hanging out with him a fair bit, and we got along like peas and carrots,” Rapana said.
“He always tries to talk like an American. Every time. He puts on a massive American accent like he’s from America, but he’s from Australia.”
At the time of printing Rapana currently leads the NRL in line breaks and tackle busts, sits equal third for tries and is fifth for all run metres.
Leilua is well clear at the top of the offload leaderboard and in second place for tackle busts. Both have also been quietly collecting Dally M points which could see them potentially spring a big surprise come September if their form continues.
The Raiders 60-6 mauling of the Tigers in Round Eight was game that Rapana says ignited the duo combination, with both of them combining for a remarkable six tries.
“That was our best performance so far this year, but there are more games to come. Hopefully there’ll be a better one than that,” Leilua said.
It’s not all smooth sailing for Leipana though, coming under fire from their partners for the amount of time they spend with each other.
“We hang out all the time. Most days off we always hang out with each other. The Mrs’ don’t like that but they’ve got to deal with it,” Leilua said.
“We just sit around and talk about everything. Playstation, golf, [I’m] probably a better golfer than him… by far.
“We like the same things, do the same things, and we were just meant to be together.”
Leilua might have to start spending less time with Rapana soon however, as he recently proposed to his now Fiance.
It might not count as an assist on the NRL stat sheets, but Rapana played a key role in one of the bigger moments of Leilua’s life.
“I went with him to go and get his engagement ring and helped him set up his proposal.”
Their relationship off the field has only served to benefit the special bond they have on it. Raiders coach Ricky Stuart often singles out the duo for their energy and passion on the pitch, imploring the rest of the team to follow their example.
Many Raiders fans will now be wondering what the future holds for Leipana?
“We jokingly laugh about Don (Raiders CEO) signing us on a package deal. I enjoy playing with him, and he enjoys playing with me so I’d like to stay with him as long as I’m here, and playing alongside him as long as I can,” Rapana said.
A package deal would be music to the ears of Leilua.
“I wish that. He’s a great player and I like him on my wing, and whatever he decides to do I wish he stays here,” Leilua said.
Package deals are the least of worries for Leipana at the moment, as they have a season to finish, tries to score and plenty of heated arguments over who is the better golfer to settle.