Rugby League

Canberra Raiders captain Jarrod Croker comfortable in NRL All Stars company

Canberra Raiders captain Jarrod Croker.
Canberra Raiders captain Jarrod Croker. Photo: Rohan Thomson

He's played 140 NRL games in six seasons, has surpassed legend Mal Meninga in scoring for the Raiders and is tracking to break many more Canberra records as the club's newly-appointed captain.

But only now, Jarrod Croker admits, does he feel like he truly belongs in the NRL.

The 24-year-old will represent the Raiders as part of the NRL All Stars match on the Gold Coast on Friday night, riding the confidence of a breakout season in 2014 but adamant he's yet to reach his peak.

Croker has been a mainstay of the Raiders' NRL squad since he made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2009, incredibly playing 140 of a possible 147 matches.

Maligned at times throughout his career, particularly for his defence, Croker was Canberra's standout player in 2014 and said it had given him the confidence to accept the Raiders' leadership.

"I think last year everything changed for me personally, having [coach Ricky Stuart] come to the club, I'd only ever had one coach before him," Croker said.

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"I was obviously looking to impress and I'd never trained as hard as last pre-season. My body fat was as low as it's ever been, I was as quick as I've ever been, it all seemed to help me be consistent. I suppose it was the first full season I've felt I belonged. It's a rollercoaster.

"Even in 2012 [in the NRL finals] I still had a little bit of doubt, it was fairly well publicised all the defensive stuff.

"It was never about not being able to tackle, it's about making decisions out wide and people inside and outside you. Concentration is a big one as well, knowing whether to go or not on the pass or hold back, working with players inside you. Unfortunately for me, over my whole career, I've had probably 50 different players either side of me, with injuries and players coming in and out of the team.

"It takes time and a lot of faith, both my coaches have shown a lot of faith in me. I'm lucky, I guess."

Croker was awarded the Mal Meninga medal last season as Canberra's best player and, with 892 points, now sits behind only David Furner (1218) and Clinton Schifcofske (1052) as the club's all-time leading point-scorers.

Having re-signed for another four seasons, Croker said his best was yet to come.

"I'm only 24, I want to be peaking hopefully at the end of this contract and playing for another three or four years after that for the Raiders," Croker said.

"Hopefully [2014] is a stepping stone going to more levels."

Croker's form is only now starting to be recognised at representative level. He was overlooked for NSW Country last year, selectors choosing Raiders teammate Jack Wighton ahead of him.

He was a shadow player for NSW Origin and then represented the Prime Minister's XIII in Papua New Guinea, as a late injury replacement for Wighton.

Part of the NRL's elite involved in Friday's All Stars match, Croker said he felt far more comfortable in their company.

"It's a bit easier when you're in the starting team as opposed to coming in late or as a shadow player," Croker said.

"I definitely feel like I belong now, hopefully this is the start of a good season. I'm a pretty laid-back customer, I think that's why when good things come along my family gets more excited than me.

"My missus is always into me about showing a bit more emotion. I am happy, I'm probably just not as happy as everyone else. The family rides the rollercoaster with me.

"This game is a great experience, I'll be looking to put my best foot forward. It's a very big game for me."