UPDATED: Big Dylan Napa, all six feet, four inches and 109 kilograms of him, comes onto the field against Canterbury-Bankstown and immediately grabs a loose Bulldogs ball with the line just 20 metres away.
Two tackles later, the Roosters score through Boyd Cordner off an exceptional short ball from Daniel Mortimer.
It’s understandable to assume that one event did not lead to another, but this writer can’t help but feel that simply having a redhead on the field was somehow responsible for the moments that followed his injection; the players perhaps warmed by the glow of his mane, or the opposition perhaps distracted from, I dunno, the glow of his mane.
The Roosters have a long and storied history littered with redheads, some better than others. The club nabbed Paul “Fatty” Vautin at the tail end of his career, bred now-Manly utility Tom Symonds through the ranks, sacked Anthony Watts, used Ben Jones on occasion and got a whole game from Sean Rudder back in the day.
But since the Roosters let go of Symonds in the pre-season, the club has been bereft of any red save for that on the jersey. So it’s understandable why Roosters fans have been waiting 14 rounds for Macklemore to make his debut and continue the tradition of flame-haired athletes in the red, white and blue — with the belief that this iteration of ranga would surpass all those before him to become the best to wear the tricolours.
It’s been a long wait.
Brisbane-born Napa played his juniors with the Apsley Devils before being signed by recruitment savant Peter O’Sullivan and making the trek down to Sydney, playing the past two years in the National Youth Competition.
He formed a devastating one-two front-row punch for the Under 20’s squad with Kane Evans, and was awarded a bench spot on the NYC ‘s Team of the Year in 2012. Since then he’s spent the year playing in the back row for the Roosters’ feeder club the Newtown Jets, and has been named four times to debut in first grade this year only to fall off an extended bench on all four occasions.
He was named in number 15 earlier in the week, and the Roosters tweeted he’d make his debut at long last. He came on at around the 20 minute mark of the first half, and we’ve seen enough in just 23 minutes of action to know that the youngster will have a long career.
He ran it nine times for 75 metres and three tackle busts, with 17 tackles and a shoulder charge on James Graham, before dropping the ball twice and unleashing a tirade at the referees that would’ve made Alec Baldwin blush.
Given the way the Roosters games have been refereed, every Roosters fan lived vicariously through Napa during that vituperation.
His energy was infectious and the Roosters looked a far more intimidating side with him on the field. He bounces around the ground like a kid with ADHD in a padded cell, and only wants to make every hit hurt. To wit, Graham was forced from the field after that jarring and illegal jolt from Napa, who clearly won the battle of the redheads:
He was put on report for the shoulder charge but has escaped a charge according to the Roosters:
And of course from the man himself — seemingly STILL blowing up from the penalty:
So he’s free to play this week against the Manly Sea-Eagles, and with Marty Kennedy in doubt with a knee injury, there may be a reason to give the big fella a second run against former Roosters ranga Tom Symonds.
Coach Trent Robinson used him as a wide-running second-rower but he has the size, strength and required mongrel to play first grade in the front row, and the agility and energy to play as a roving lock.
He’s still a little raw, and his hands need acclimatising to first grade. He just seemed far too pumped up to hold it in the second half, and Robbo pulled him off after two straight errors.
But once he can channel that inner nut job into strong runs, better ball security and a better understanding of the speed and rules of first grade, he won’t leave the top side.
And with Frank-Paul Nu’uasala, Sonny Bill Williams, Luke O’Donnell and Lama Tasi all coming off contract at the end of the season, the Roosters may elect to let some of them (SBW excluded) go with players like Napa, Evans (below, who was a potential bench guy against the Bulldogs but was let down by the freakin’ system, man) and the impressive Isaac Liu coming through the ranks.