7 March 2023

Canberra is willing Raiders star Jarrod Croker towards his NRL 300 milestone

| Tim Gavel
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Jarrod Croker

Jarrod Croker at Raiders Headquarters, Braddon. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Until the 2022 season, Jarrod Croker had never played reserve grade for the Raiders.

He went straight from the under-20s in 2008 to first grade, playing 21 NRL games in his first year.

But 2022 was a humbling experience as he returned to playing in the NSW Cup after stem-cell surgery on his knee the previous year.

It was a far cry from the NRL world where the team is flown to away games the day before.

“Dad was dropping me off last year at the Big Merino for the bus trip to Sydney, arriving a couple of hours before the game,” says Jarrod.

“It brought back memories of when I was a kid.”

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Some would view it as a reality check, but Jarrod was praised for how he handled the situation. It always seems to be about football and the team.

As he says: “You can’t drop your lip.”

Jarrod took it as an opportunity to guide younger players coming through the club.

“I enjoyed being around the younger players. I didn’t know some of them before game day but they were keen to learn and I’m keen to help them.”

With some young players putting a lot of pressure on themselves, Jarrod has been a calming influence. He’s someone they can look to as a role model with his years of experience and humility.

Yet no one could possibly forget that he has played 292 NRL games for the Raiders – just eight games shy of 300. His family certainly hasn’t; they’re well aware of the looming milestone.

“I have two boys. My eldest is three this year and he loves the footy,” says Jarrod.

“My family rides the roller coaster, that’s for sure. Three hundred is there. It’s hard to avoid but it’s obviously a goal. All I can control is how I train and play.”

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Whether he gets to play another eight games is dependent on many factors, including his own form, the form of others and injury.

It’s a milestone he would most likely have reached well before this season had it not been for his own injuries.

He’s had shoulder reconstructions, a dislocated knee, stem-cell surgery on his knee, a fractured eye socket, jaw and cheekbone. The eye, jaw and cheekbone injuries occurred in the elimination final against the Sharks.

Jarrod Croker playing league as a nine year old

Jarrod at about nine years of age. Photo: Croker family.

Whatever the past, he’s ready to play.

“I’ve gone through another pre-season and it’s a lot harder than playing. I feel better now than when I did in 2021.”

But at 32 years of age, Jarrod knows his time in the NRL is almost up.

“Whether I play next year depends on how many games I play this year. The option is with the club.”

And this points to why he is one of the most popular players in Raiders’ history. He’s a one-club player, humble to a fault, and we can’t help but will him towards the 300 milestone.

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