Ricky Stuart announced that Jarrod Croker would be rested from this Friday night’s away game against the Wests Tigers to ensure he plays his 300th game at GIO. And with that announcement, he has set off a firestorm.
Whether it’s the right or wrong decision is debatable.
On one hand, we have one of the Raiders’ clubmen becoming only the second player in the club’s history to reach the 300-game milestone.
On the other hand, there is the mindset that every game in the NRL is vital and no player who is fit and eligible to play should miss selection no matter the circumstances. It’s about putting the best team on the field.
Both are plausible arguments.
As an aside, it should be recognised that this situation is totally different from that of the Brumbies against the Western Force two weeks ago when more than half the team was rested. That decision was due to Wallaby protocols.
Stuart made it clear the decision was not Croker’s. It was made at board level in consultation with CEO Don Furner.
“I won’t be picking Jarrod next weekend,” said Stuart.
“It’s not Jarrod’s call. He’s happy to do whatever is best for the team, but I believe Jarrod deserves it, and I believe our fans, who are so loyal to us, deserve to see him play live at GIO for his 300th.”
Stuart also emphasised that he wasn’t being disrespectful to the Wests Tigers, especially with the Raiders’ alumni in the Tigers’ coaching ranks, Tim Sheens and David Furner.
“I know how well they’ve been going over the past month. I’m certainly not taking our foot off the pedal, but I’m putting our respect for Jarrod before our game next week,” Stuart said.
“We want to make this moment special for him, his wife Brittney and his sons Rory and Tate, for his mum and dad, his extended family and all the members and fans from Canberra and Goulburn who’ve guided him in his career.”
For his part, Croker was visibly emotional as he addressed the media.
“Everyone knows what the jersey and this club means to me. I’ve spent more than half my life here. I wear this jersey with so much pride. I try to do my best for the club, my team and my family. I just want to make them proud,” he said.
The emotion is understandable given there was a degree of uncertainty that he would even reach this milestone.
After two injury-riddled years and playing the first five rounds of this season in the NSW Cup, there was a strong chance he would be stranded on 299 NRL games.
But Croker toiled away before he was finally given an opportunity in first grade again.
That opportunity came after the Raiders players virtually demanded that he be recalled and he was back for the round-six game against the Broncos.
Since his recall, the Raiders have gone on a winning streak, with six victories and one loss in the past seven games.
His influence on the team has been incredible and there for all to see as a calmness prevailed due to his leadership.
Croker, one of the most popular Raiders of all time, has created a unique fan base, which has come through not only his record-breaking performances on the field but for the work he does off the field.
After making his debut in 2009 and then committing himself to the journey to get to this point, nobody will begrudge Croker the opportunity to play his 300th game in front of his home crowd.