Group 20 rugby league
THE OPPORTUNITY of a lifetime has beckoned for Shannon Rupapere, who has bid a bittersweet farewell to the Yenda Blueheelers as he chases his rugby league dreams in Queensland.
The crafty Kiwi has left Group 20 to take up a training contract with the Central Queensland Capras in the Intrust Super Cup - considered the strongest league competition in the country outside of the NRL.
The offer came straight out of left field for Rupapere, who was set to play a major role for Yenda this season as well as coaching the club's under 16s team.
But it was one he simply could not refuse, he told The Area News before he moved with his wife Pani to Rockhampton.
"It did come out of the blue for me," Rupapere said.
"The challenge is obviously there - there's bigger players, bigger names, more teams, going into a new environment. It's going to be really challenging.
"Personally I think I'm probably suited to a more technical and faster game than bashing into and trying to dodge people.
"It's going to be pretty full on but it's all very exciting and I can't wait to get started."
His first Capras training session was on Saturday, with his pre-season likely to dictate how much Intrust Super Cup football he plays and how much time he spends with coastal affiliate club Yepoon Seagulls.
For long-serving Blueheelers secretary Sam Panarello, who brought the utility over from Hamilton in the middle of 2012, Rupapere's shock move is a double-edged sword.
While it vindicates the club's methods in taking a rough diamond and turning them into a better overall player and person, it also robs Yenda of one of its most-beloved characters.
"At the end of the day, you want them to develop and grow and become men," he said.
"It's Shannon's day and we're all happy for him, and we're proud to have been a part of Shannon's development.
"Sometimes you've got to make your own luck, and now is his time.
"It was rushed - but admittedly when he came to Yenda, it was rushed.
"He was disappointed for us, because we were expecting a real good season out of him.
"But the door is always open for him. He's a great club guy."
Central Queensland's interest in Rupapare came predominantly on the back of his form for Yenda, which saw him prove effective both at the base of the scrum and in the halves and eventually picked to represent Group 20.
His ability to adapt from the New Zealand style to the rugged football played in the bush also worked heavily in his favour.
"They did some homework on him, someone's recommended him and it's all gone from there," Panarello said.
"They've been following him for a while. They like them if they're accustomed to Australian conditions.
"He's not disillusioned - he's given them a fair bit of a headstart so he's got a lot of catching up to do, in terms of fitness.
"But they've told him if he doesn't come now that door will shut.
"He's only young - I think he's only 21 or 22 this year so he's got some opportunity there to see if he can make a break."
Rupapere said he will miss both the Blueheelers and the township of Yenda, and said they will forever remain close to his heart.
"They brought me over here, took in my whole family, looked after me and got me to where I am now," he said.
"I've got a lot of people to thank, especially Sam - I risked all my life to come over to Yenda and left it all on his hands.
"It worked out in the end. He's done a lot for me.
"Swampy (coach Roy Romeo), he's a real different coach to what I was used to and he's a very good one. He more taught me as a person, not just as a player."
Will Rupapere be back one day? That's up to the football gods.
"I'd like to think there's always a spot for me at Yenda in the future, but that's only if they want me," he laughed.