From Sporting News,
NRL Rookie Spotlight: Josiah Karapani primed for NRL debut
Josiah Karapani was just days away from making his dreams come true in 2022 - but a mystery illness ruled him out prior to his NRL debut with South Sydney.
The 21-year-old moved over from Auckland as a teenager and signed with the Rabbitohs, impressing club officials and starring in Jersey Flegg.
His exploits in the age-group competitions led to a long-term extension with Souths and after being upgraded from a development contract to the top 30 roster, Karapani is now closing in on a debut.
In an exclusive interview with The Sporting News
prior to the opening round of the season, Karapani opened up on his journey from New Zealand to Australia and leaving his tight-knit family behind.
“I grew up in New Zealand – around the south Auckland area - and I played with a rugby union team called East Tamaki," he said.
"I started playing when I was five years old and we had the rip-off tags on the side. I grew up playing union until I was 13 and then I went to school and played league. I started to play for the Warriors in their junior system and transferred to the Rabbitohs after COVID.
“It was a huge thing for me – I wasn’t really sure where I was going with union. I did make it to some rep teams, playing in the U18s Auckland team, but there wasn’t really anything after that.
"When I was in the Warriors system, I played SG Ball and played a few games over here – we used to come over every two weeks. I was lucky enough to get some interest from one of the coaches from the teams that I played against.
"They called my uncle who lived over here to see what I was up to – the only thing I was doing was training by myself when footy was over through COVID. That’s when the opportunity to move over here happened.
“It was a pretty big move – I’m very family-orientated and I’ve got a lot of people in my family, probably about 30 of us. I’m kind of used to having a lot of people around with my cousins and siblings.
"It was very different moving all by myself and leaving my family to just play footy and live with my aunty and uncle. It was different for me, but I knew what I came here for."
After finding his feet as a teenager moving countries, Karapani was a shining light in NSW Cup early last year and was destined for a call-up to the top grade.
The powerful outside back revealed to The Sporting News
that head coach Jason Demetriou
had informed Karapani of the plans to debut him in the NRL, before he was shockingly admitted to hospital with an illness that kept him bed-ridden for two weeks.
Karapani would go on to miss the remainder of the season due to the illness, but is ready to hit the ground running in 2023 and knows he has Demetriou in his corner.
"I missed half the year last year after Round 9, so it’s good to be back feeling fit and ready to go," he said.
“My first pre-season last year, there were a few things that I didn’t do really good, I got into bad habits and I wasn’t used to it. This year, I know what to expect – go to bed early, get up early, get prepped and I feel good.
“It did give me confidence and it actually made me play even harder, knowing that I got signed with the Rabbitohs long-term.
“JD has been good to me, especially with any habits that I’m stuck in or areas I’m lacking, he will always keep me accountable.
"He always loves to be fair on each and every one of us as players. He has been a big role model for me and he has a lot of faith in what I can do. He gives me a lot of life advice as well.
“Mainly my defence – they say physically I’m ready, but they want to see how my defence goes. They are the things I’ve been trying to prioritise in the pre-season games and I’m looking to build on that and improve on it."
Demetriou isn't the only person within the South Sydney organisation who has high hopes for Karapani, with a number of his teammates backing him to become a star in first grade.
Representative forward Keaon Koloamatangi
spoke highly of the raw ability Karapani possesses and is confident he will step up at some stage this year.
“He is only young and he is still learning, but the athleticism he has and that raw talent, not many people have it," he told The Sporting News.
"He still has a lot of years to grow, but I feel like if he puts his head down and concentrates, he could be anything.
"At the moment, he is putting it over us at training and it’s exciting to see young blokes do that – when he comes into the team, we know he will be ready to do it."
Karapani will be competing for a spot in the backline with the likes of Isaiah Tass and Izaac Thompson this year, and he looks set to be the next cab off the rank if injury or suspension were to strike.
One person who has been watching him closely is fellow centre Campbell Graham
, who has been more than happy to impart some of the lessons he learned during Australia's World Cup success onto the uncapped gun.
“I’ve been willing to talk to him if he needs it and any time he asks," Graham told The Sporting News.
"I haven’t gone out of my way to try and mentor him or anything like that, I don’t think he necessarily needs that.
"What he is doing is working for him, he is obviously a very talented kid and little things along the way that I can help him out with, I’m more than happy to do so.
"He’s very impressive on the field and he’s definitely one to keep an eye on."
South Sydney will begin their season with a clash against Cronulla on Saturday, March 4th.