Early on Sunday morning with their home town of Goulburn aflutter in Raiders flags and streamers, Jarrod Croker’s extended family will set off in two 22-seater buses, bursting with excitement and pride.
The 29-year-old Raiders’ co-captain’s mother Pauline, father Greg, his sisters Natalie and Naomie, uncles, aunties, in-laws and nephews will be there. Extended family, unable to get a seat on the buses, will be in their cars battling the Hume Highway.
The convoy would have been bigger except were it not for Taralga’s 150th-anniversary celebrations over the holiday weekend. The pioneering Crokers are entwined in Taralga, Crookwell and Goulburn’s early European histories.
A photo of Jarrod and Greg holding a framed photo marking Jarrod’s top-try scoring efforts is a social media lightning rod for people who have watched the town’s favourite son grow into a leader on and off the field.
Representative legend Colin Clarke who coached and played alongside Greg writes: “Great photo of a proud father and son. Congratulations Jarrod. The years of hard work, training and dedication are for these opportunities. Go write your own history. Go the Raiders.”
Greg was Jarrod’s coach up until his mid-teens when he began trialling for the Raiders’ development teams.
“Dave Hamilton [Raiders’ junior development officer] always had him pinpointed, along with a few other kids from Goulburn who were going well at the time,” Greg says. “We used to take them once a week for training, then the Harold Matthews Cup under-16s, more and more travelling and training.
“Dave coached them. Steve Freebody from Goulburn was the assistant coach there for a while and we’d give them a hand [with coaching],” Greg says. Car-pooling helped share the travelling load.
“I probably turned the music up, because the kids would have been yapping in my ears and carrying on … We never had a drama, never hit a roo or a bloody wombat,” Greg says.
Containing nerves while watching a big match has never troubled Greg, until the epic second half against South Sydney last Friday night.
“Midway through the second half when Souths looked like they were starting to get on top, I was getting more nervous. Then we came home, I was as happy as anyone. It was great, just to have that crowd there cheering you, and knowing where they are heading, it was unbelievable. Terrific,” Greg says.
“I remember seeing a good crowd in the finals against Cronulla a few years back. When the Viking Clap began they were good and loud and noisy, but nothing like this.”
The Croker buses will go to and from Sydney on Sunday. Greg has watched his son as composed in the highs and crushing blows of the game, from the time he was a little five-eighth who idolised Brad Fittler, even dressing like Fittler.
Today, white-capped young supporters in the crowd dress like Croker, emulating his distinctive white headgear. Greg is quietly confident he can lead the Raiders to win the grand final.
“There is no doubting the Roosters are a great individual team,” Greg says. “But it’s a bit like the old Jack Gibson saying: a champion team will always beat a team of champions. I sort of stick by that philosophy. We have been playing as a champion team all year. If you can put pressure on a side that’s as good as they are, as individual as they are, you might find some cracks there. I think we are a big chance, I really do. I’m quietly confident. We know what we are up against. They are definitely beatable.”