Last year he was cutting hair and moonlighting at a bar to pay bills, but Jordan Rapana is aiming to make the most of his NRL comeback after six years and fight for Canberra's vacant fullback spot.
Despite launching his NRL career in spectacular fashion with two tries as an 18-year-old for the Gold Coast Titans in 2008, Rapana will play his first NRL game in 2189 days against Parramatta in Darwin on Saturday.
But the 24-year-old, who embarked on a two-year Mormon mission to Britain and dabbled in rugby union, is determined his comeback will not be a one-off cameo.
Rapana signed a one-year contract extension and upgrade with the Raiders on Thursday, and declared his ambition to become Canberra's No.1 option at fullback.
"It's an opportunity I've got to take,'' Rapana said. "They haven't got a fullback for next year and it's every kid's dream to get this opportunity, let alone to get a chance for the years to come. I began the year on the wing [with Souths Logan in Queensland Cup ] and then centre, but fullback is where I feel most comfortable.''
Canberra sacked NSW Origin fullback star Josh Dugan last year, have lost Anthony Milford to the Brisbane Broncos for next year and Wests Tigers tyro James Tedesco reneged on a rich $700,000 per season deal to join the Raiders.
Rapana may be a cut-price version, but he doesn't want to be a stop-gap solution.
Rapana scored five tries in five games in his rookie NRL season with the Titans, before leaving the NRL for a two-year Mormon mission in England and Wales. He returned to professional sport with the Western Force in Super Rugby, but moved to Canberra to train with the ACT Brumbies after failing to get a start.
Rapana took his first tentative steps back to rugby league last year, playing two games with the Queanbeyan Blues before signing an incentive-based training contract with the Raiders mid-year.
He has done everything from hairdressing, security, bar tending and waiting tables during his hiatus.
"Even my first game back with the Blues I knew straight away it [league] is where I wanted to be, and where I felt most comfortable,'' Rapana said. "Those two games [with Blues] was to get me ready for NSW Cup and I was confident I could get back [to NRL], no doubt about.
"I had faith I'd be able to get back to where I was. Going to union stunted me in a way, it halted me a bit and I struggled to make the transition to a different code.''
Regular fullback Milford has been shifted to five-eighth to accommodate Rapana's inclusion, which was only possible after the Raiders sought NRL permission. Rapana is not in Canberra's top 25 NRL squad and the club had already exhausted its $440,000 second-tier salary cap.
Rapana has won six man-of-the-match awards with Souths Logan in the Queensland Cup this season, but told fans not to expect him to emulate Milford.
"Obviously Milf's a freak and I'm nowhere near that level,'' Rapana said. "I'm 100kg now compared to 85kg when I was 18. I feel returning the ball I'll be able to have more impact. I'm not much of a ball player, I rely on my speed and strength.
"It's good to be back here again.''
Rapana's re-signing heaps further uncertainty on the future of outside back Reece Robinson, who remains unsigned for next season.
The story Jordan Rapana on a mission to be the Canberra Raiders' new No.1 gun first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.