Rugby League

Canberra Raiders hope Zac Santo can emulate Jordan Rapana and seize his chance

The Canberra Raiders are hopeful Zac Santo will emulate Jordan Rapana and kickstart his NRL career in the capital after signing the outside back to a one-year deal.

Despite an outstanding under-20s career with North Queensland where he scored 49 tries, Santo has left the defending premiers in search of opportunity after he played just one NRL game in 2014.

Much like Rapana, Santo's career stalled after attracting rave reviews as a youngster.

However, the Raiders view his signing as a calculated risk and believe the 22-year-old can emulate Rapana and seize his opportunity.

Rapana played five NRL games with Gold Coast in 2008 before a Mormon mission and a stint in rugby union halted his NRL career.

He played 20 NRL games for the Raiders last year and was rewarded for his strong form with a new two-year contract.

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Santo scored 26 tries for the Cowboys' Queensland Cup affiliate Townsville Blackhawks in this year's regular season, behind only Ipswich flyer Marmin Barba (27).

He can play wing and full-back and is viewed as a solid replacement for Jeremy Hawkins, now with Melbourne Storm.

"They [Santo and Rapana] have both got a lot of similarities in that they were very good young players," Canberra's recruitment boss Peter Mulholland said.

"He was one of the outstanding young players in the NYC competition, he's got enormous pace and will be a strong back-up for us in the outside backs.

"They [Cowboys] have had a really stable back line for a long time so we thought we'd give him this opportunity to show what he can do for 12 months, then see what happens from there.

"He plays mostly wing but can also play full-back so he offers that bit of versatility."

Blackhawks coach Kristian Woolf likened Santo to Cowboys grand final hero Kyle Feldt, who himself only forced his way into the NRL team late last season.

"I think he's very capable of playing first-grade down there," Woolf said.

"He's not a very big bloke but he's very powerful for his size and is very quick.

"He's probably been unlucky being stuck behind some good outside backs who haven't had a lot of injury.

"There's been plenty of players once they've got that chance they get the chance to be a regular player. Obviously Kyle did that and I have no doubt Zac can do the same."

Santo is effectively a swap for back rower Patrick Mago, as the Junior Kangaroo has joined another North Queensland affiliate Mackay Cutters.

English hooker Josh Hodgson, off contract at the end of next year, is the only big name player the Raiders are yet to re-sign following the recent retention of Jack Wighton, Shannon Boyd, Josh Papalii and Blake Austin until the end of 2018.

Hodgson has recently returned from helping England to a home Test series win over New Zealand, and Mulholland said they will resume talks after the Christmas break.

"Josh has just got back to training so we'll wait until the New Year until we start working on that," he said.

"In terms of props we'll just wait on that as there's no big hurry, something might fall out of the sky."

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