Roosters leaning on milestone man Napa

Dylan Napa played rugby as a teenager in Queensland but changed codes after school for a reason only a hardman like him would come up with.

"You couldn't shoulder charge in union so I switched to league," the Roosters front-rower said on Monday. "And when I switched to league they banned it."

You think he's joking but he means it. It was the sheer physicality that drew Napa to the 13-man game and he has revelled in it since, including this year's State of Origin series.

Seven years later and the flame-haired 24-year-old is about to make his 100th NRL appearance against Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.

The son of a noted tough guy of the Brisbane competition in the '70s and '80s Stan Napa, who was notoriously sent off in three straight matches, this chip-off-the-old-block is enjoying a breakout season and shapes along with front-row partner Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as a key figure in the Roosters' title ambitions.

Napa has stamped himself as one of the competition's best props - and as it stands a likely selection in Mal Meninga's Australian squad for the World Cup - not by toning down his aggression but by tailoring it to the situation he finds himself in.

"I think that's just maturity as a footballer. And the fact that he'd be spending a few weeks on the sideline if he goes after [opposition players] like he used to," Roosters co-captain Jake Friend said.

"I think he's much more measured in the way he goes after players or a game now. It can be a turning point. It's a big plus to have in your team."

Friend points to a strange off-field incident last December, when Napa was knocked unconscious by an attacker at a Palm Beach party after going to the aid of a woman, as a catalyst for the hard work that has already delivered rewards for the Roosters forward this year.

"He's always been a good footballer and we've seen him grow and grow each year. He always had that Origin potential. He goes after games and he goes after players ... he's a big-game player," Friend said.

"I think for Naps he had a little bit of stuff in the off-season and after that he was head down and bum up and I think that's a big reason why he got his chance at Origin and why he's been playing so well."

The Roosters will be leaning on their big men more than ever in a top-four showdown against a Sharks pack that thoroughly dominated them in their previous meeting, a 44-12 thrashing last month.

It is not lost on Napa or Friend that it's not just lately that Cronulla have had their measure either. They have lost their past six games against the premiers and have prevailed in only three of their last 14 clashes against the Sharks dating back to 2010.

"It's not a good stat," Friend admitted. "It's in my head but it's not weighing me down at all. Obviously we'd like to change that this weekend but all those sort of things can take you away from your job.

"We got taught a lesson through the middle against them last time. It was a bit disappointing. For us it's a big game in a lot of senses I guess. Definitely in the middle third of the field I think we've been going really well.

"But I think there is definitely room for improvement. We're looking forward to the battle this week. It will be a good game to see where we are in the context of the season."

This story Roosters leaning on milestone man Napa first appeared on Brisbane Times.