There’s a sense of deja vu as the Canberra Raiders prepare to head into the 2022 season.
I’ve watched the likes of Laurie Daley, Terry Campese and Alan Tongue struggle to keep going through the latter years of their NRL careers because of injury. They all had time remaining on their contracts, but their bodies simply had taken a pounding over the years. They had to call it a day. Similarly, plenty of fingers are crossed when it comes to the playing future of Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker.
Thirteen seasons in the NRL have taken a toll on Croker. Last season he managed just 12 games as he battled knee and shoulder injuries. Mind you, he still scored 80 points.
There is optimism that revolutionary stem-cell surgery on his knee will prolong his career, but at 31 years of age, the week-in-week-out battering to his body surely creates uncertainty as to how long he can keep playing.
Jarrod isn’t one to acknowledge personal milestones, but he is on the cusp of several significant records.
With 291 games for the Raiders, he has Jason Croker’s all-time club record of 318 in his sights and he is 548 points behind Cameron Smith’s record as the greatest points scorer in the NRL.
Given Jarrod’s best year in terms of points scored came in 2016, when he scored 296, and was one of the form centres in the competition at that time, he would need at least another two years of regular game time to reach that milestone.
Contract wise, that is a possibility, with another two years to go on his current deal with an option for a third in his favour.
You never write off a champion, but the issue of medical retirement with his contract fully paid out will surely come up in discussions if he struggles with injury this season.
But there is plenty of water to go under that bridge and I feel a sense of unease even raising the issue. He has been a stalwart for the Raiders and a fan favourite.
As it stands, given he is coming back from injury, it is hard to imagine that he will be right to go in round one against the Sharks, let alone the two trial matches against the Roosters and Manly.
The club has done well bringing two quality centres through the system behind Croker in Sebastian Kris and Matt Timoko. They appear to be the obvious leading contenders to start the season.
As the start of the season nears there’s also the question of the captaincy. At times over the past two years, there have been co-captains with Croker and Josh Hodgson, but with Hodgson leaving the club at the end of the season and the fact that he stepped down from the role in 2021, coupled with doubts over Croker’s future, it would appear the door is open for a new skipper.
Elliott Whitehead fulfilled that role in 2021 in the absence of Croker and Hodgson and appears to be the leading candidate.
Personally, I would love to see a fully fit Jarrod Croker take to the field in round one, but plenty of question marks remain.