Sam Rapira hopes the silver lining to his horror year of injuries is about to emerge.
Shoulder, ankle and arm injuries restricted the hard-working prop to just six NRL appearances this year - his lightest workload in seven seasons of first grade action.
As the Warriors get ready to start their preseason under new coach Matt Elliott tomorrow, Rapira is eager for action.
He feels refreshed. His enforced layoffs were frustrating as he watched the Warriors slide down the table, but they allowed his 25-year-old body to get some time off from the bruising punishment that comes with his position.
"Just having a bit of time off let everything heal up the best that it can," Rapira said.
"I've just got to get the fitness back and the ball in the hand then go from there. I'm really looking forward to doing a bit of hard work in the offseason."
Rapira has no doubt this summer is going to feature a lot of sweat. "Every year it's pretty tough but I suppose the way we performed this year, we need to step up a level. I think all the boys know that and are keen to get into it."
Rapira says he's been impressed by Elliott in his meetings with the Australian who takes over from Brian McClennan.
"He's good. All I get from him is that he wants to do what's best for the players and the team. Everything seems positive so far. I'm just keen to get alongside him and start working with him."
Up until this season Rapira has been an ironman in the Warriors, accumulating 129 appearances and evolving into one of the most respected props in the competition.
Only Jerry Seuseu (132) has played more games as a prop for the Warriors. Rapira has also been an international force with 13 tests for the Kiwis, including their 2008 World Cup success.
The real plus to Rapira's absences this year was the way some of their other front-rowers stepped up. None more so than Ben Matulino, who went from being an interchange specialist to a regular starter and ended up being the club's player of the year.
If Rapira can take a clean bill of health into the 2013 campaign, the Warriors certainly won't be short of muscle and class in this key area.
"There was good growth in that area and that's important. If one of us isn't performing then there are people who can step into our shoes and that's the way it should be," Rapira said.
"With the injuries we had this year, a lot of guys got the opportunity and did perform well. It will be interesting to see the first team that runs out next year."
Rapira is certainly expecting the in-house competition to be fierce. "If you are training well and performing well during the trial period you deserve to be there, no matter if you've been playing for 10 years or one year. The best player should be on the field playing."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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