26 June 2023

The case in favour of retaining Jarrod Croker for the 2024 season

| Tim Gavel
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The crowd stayed behind after a loss to the Warriors in Round 15 to celebrate Jarrod Croker's 300th NRL game

The crowd stayed behind after a loss to the Warriors in Round 15 to celebrate Jarrod Croker’s 300th NRL game. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

Jarrod Croker was set to see out his stellar NRL career in the NSW Cup earlier this year as he battled to recover from an injury-riddled 2022.

To hear Croker talk about his injury toll is akin to a shopping list with multiple surgeries on his knees and shoulders.

At one stage, coach Ricky Stuart suggested he consider retirement, such was the impact injuries were having on his playing career.

To his credit, Croker fought his way back into first grade, assisted by a collective appeal by the playing group to get him back into the NRL side.

Until then, the Raiders’ season was going pear-shaped after four losses in the first five rounds. The only win was against the Sharks in Round 3.

Jarrod Croker

Jarrod Croker fought his way back into first grade after a long run of injuries. Photo: Liv Cameron.

In the wake of the 53-12 loss to the Panthers in Round 5, it was obvious that something needed to change.

On-field discipline and calmness under pressure were missing in those first five rounds.

While there was carnage throughout the NRL, Croker had been plying his trade in the reserves, mentoring a number of the younger players.

Enter the player push to have their skipper back in the NRL side for the Round 6 game against the Broncos.

Raiders celebrating after a win

Raiders fans celebrating the win over the Broncos on 9 April 2023. Photo: Raiders.

Since his return, the Raiders have turned their season around, moving from near the bottom of the table to be two points away from the top-placed Panthers.

In Round 6, with Croker back leading the side, the Raiders defeated the Broncos before winning six of the next eight games.

The only losses for the Raiders since then have come against Manly (42-14) and the Warriors (36-14).

Croker has significantly contributed to the Raiders’ resurgence with his general play, goal kicking and leadership.

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Amidst the celebrations for his 300th NRL game against the Warriors three weeks ago, his contribution to the playing group since his return has been somewhat overshadowed. There remains doubt as to whether this season will be his last.

When he signed a four-year contract extension in 2020, it effectively tied him to the Raiders until the end of the 2024 season.

The final year of the contract, being in Croker’s favour, was dependent on the number of games played in the first three years of the deal.

With 2022 a virtual write-off because of injury, he won’t reach the required number of games this season, and his future is in the hands of the Raiders.

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I would suggest he is playing well enough to at least be in consideration for a contract for 2024, something that may not have been on the table in April.

He will be 33 years of age next year.

It may come down to how his body holds up at the end of a gruelling season, but either way, we know he will give his all week-in-week-out for the green machine.

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