Rugby League World Cup: New Zealand jersey means the world to Jordan Rapana
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Rugby League World Cup: New Zealand jersey means the world to Jordan Rapana

Staying in a traditional Maori house, where every New Zealand player had their own mattress in a massive hall, provided Jordan Rapana with a reminder of just how much his heritage means to him.

Rapana is eligible for four countries - New Zealand, Australia, Cook Islands, and Italy - but there is one jersey that fills him with more pride than any other.

Playing for New Zealand means the world to Jordan Rapana.

Playing for New Zealand means the world to Jordan Rapana.Credit:Karleen Minney

It's the one worn by his childhood heroes that he grew up watching on television, the ones he would mimic in his lounge room when they did the traditional pre-match haka.

Rapana was able to represent the Cook Islands in the 2013 World Cup because one of his grandfathers was born there, while his grandmother was born in Italy.

Rapana moved to Australia when he was 10 years old, but the black and white Kiwis jersey is the one that means most to him.

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"I was growing up in a very similar, small Maori town in New Zealand," Rapana said.

"I grew up with my mum's side of the family. My grandfather is a very staunch Maori, he speaks Maori, he's fluent in the language.

"If there was a heritage that I would have to say I was closest to, it would probably be my Maori side.

"It's good to be here around our heritage and our culture and know more about our heritage. It definitely gives you some passion and pride, knowing that jersey that we're wearing, where it's been and the history that it has."

The Kiwis are without a host of big names due to a mounting injury toll and off-field indiscretions - and that was before hulking forward Jason Taumalolo made an 11th hour defection to Tonga.

But ask Rapana how well New Zealand can go and he gives a short and sharp answer - "I think we can win it".

"We have the playing group and the belief, we just need to go out there and have every player believe that we can do it. I have no doubt that we can do it," Rapana said.

"There's obviously other players that are here to fill in their positions, guys that want to play for the jersey. I'd much rather have someone there that wants to be here than not, so I have no doubt they'll do the job for us.

"I'm sure the selectors and coaches have full faith in them. As a player I definitely do so I'm looking forward to it."

The Kiwis open their World Cup campaign against Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday, which could pit Rapana against one of his best mates in Raiders centre Joey Leilua.

Leilua joins Josh Papalii and Junior Paulo in the Samoan line-up looking to spoil the party for the Kiwis in their first match on home soil since 2014.

Rapana and Leilua play on the same side for the Raiders, which could see them on opposite edges of the park in the World Cup.

But the Dally M winger of the year is more than willing to go out of his way to throw a few cheeky jabs at the fiery Leilua.

"It'll be good to ruffle some feathers and stir the boys up," Rapana said.

"It'll be good fun, I'll be in his ear. I know he doesn't like a bit of banter so I'll definitely be giving him some.

"I know how to get on the wrong side of him and stir him up, so I'll definitely be doing that - it won't take much."

France face Portugal at Canberra Stadium on Sunday in the first of three games in the capital, with tickets available online from $10.