Rugby League


NRL: Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says Jarrod Croker on his way to becoming one of the club's greatest ahead of 200th games

He was a raw kid from Goulburn when he arrived on the scene but now Canberra Raiders captain Jarrod Croker is the living embodiment of the club's values.

When you picture the Raiders, you see the headgear-wearing, point scoring machine that is Croker.

When coach Ricky Stuart pictures Canberra's values of courage, respect, integrity, and professional, he sees his captain.

Croker is a reserved type of character that enjoys sitting in the background, always happy for others to steal the limelight.

But this week his is the name of everyone's lips with Croker set to become the 11th player to join Canberra's 200 club when he leads the Raiders against the Parramatta Eels at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.

The "phenomenal" achievement of racking up 200 games at just 26 years old comes as no great surprise to one member of that group - Stuart.


Stuart first met Croker at his foundation's golf day in 2013 and was immediately impressed by the young man he now believes will go down as a club legend.

"If he continues on with his consistency, his form and playing, he'll go down as one of the greats of the Raiders and one of our favourite sons," Stuart said.

"There's nothing better, there'd be nothing more than I'd want for him. From a coach that is promoting that type of vision in regards to our values, when you've got your captain who lives it, it's a wonderful foundation for a club.

"He's got such integrity and it's a phenomenal story, being able to come from a local junior in Goulburn through to play NRL, then to be club captain and now at such an age, going on to play his 200th game."

But it's not the football player that everyone else sees that impresses Stuart the most - it's the family man he adores more than anything.

"The one thing that stands out is the family that he's come from," Stuart said.

"[Parents] Greg and Pauline are wonderful people who have supported him all the way through his career.

"I see the relationship he has with them, which I really like seeing in people, having that relationship with their mum or dad or both. I think that is so important for a player, and Jarrod certainly has that."

With 199 games to his name already it's easy to forget Croker is just 26 - he will become the fourth youngest player to play 200 NRL matches behind Mitchell Pearce, Craig Wing and Luke Patten.

While point scoring records continue to tumble and his consistency can't be questioned, higher representative honours continue to elude one of Goulburn's finest exports.

It's no secret that representative coaches look to winning teams and Stuart has no doubt Croker can lead a Raiders resurgence on the representative scene.

"From a club coach, I am very very loyal to my players and sometimes maybe biased," Stuart said.

"But when I put my name to a player, my credibility is on the line and I trust Jarrod Croker. As a group, when we're consistently making semi-finals, when we're consistently winning games of football, we'll get to have more representative players selected."

Stuart mulled over the decision to make Croker captain in late 2014 when he was just 23, but he hasn't looked back for three reasons - Croker has a family-first mantra, he will be a one-club player in Canberra, and he's doing "a wonderful job".

Stuart had no doubt Croker would one day captain the Raiders - it was a matter of "when", not "if". But it didn't always seem that way.

Tony Adam coached the Raiders to the under 20's premiership in 2008, where Croker had a hand in the grand final's match-winning try, and says the Goulburn boy occasionally needed a clip around the ears.

But Adam was confident Croker would handle the transition to the top grade and expects the Raiders skipper to leave behind a remarkable legacy in Canberra.

"I think he'll be one of the best centres that the Raider have ever produced, if not the best," Adam said.

"He's got some stiff competition there with Mal and a few others but he'll be up there."


Saturday: Parramatta Eels v Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium, 7:30pm. TV time: Live on Fox League.

Raiders team: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Junior Paulo, 9. Josh Hodgson , 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Joe Tapine. Interchange: 14. Adam Clydsdale, 15. Luke Bateman, 16. Clay Priest, 17. Sia Soliola, 18. Dunamis Lui, 19. Jordan Turner, 20. Dave Taylor, 21. Scott Sorensen

Eels team: 1. Bevan French, 2. Semi Radradra, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Kirisome Auva'a, 5. Josh Hoffman, 6. Clint Gutherson, 7. Will Smith, 8. Suaia Matagi, 9. Kaysa Pritchard, 10. Tim Mannah (c), 11. Manu Ma'u, 12. Tepai Moeroa, 13. Nathan Brown. Interchange: 14. Beau Scott (c), 15. Daniel Alvaro, 16. Kenny Edwards, 17. Siosaia Vave, 18. David Gower, 19. Rory O'Brien, 20. Brad Takairangi, 21. Mitchell Moses