Jarrod Croker has been called into the Blues' squad for Origin III. Photo: Jay Cronan
He had to cut short a Gold Coast holiday, but Canberra Raiders centre Jarrod Croker didn't need to go to a theme park for a roller coaster ride this week.
Just days after after missing a match-winning kick against Wests Tigers, Croker's stunning season was rewarded with a last minute call-up to the NSW Origin squad for Origin III on July 9.
It was due recognition for career-best form which has him second on the NRL's try-scorer's list, and has been the shining light in a forgettable Raiders season.
Jarrod Croker had to cut short his holiday with parnter Brittney Wicks. Photo: Melissa Adams
Fellow Canberra centre Jack Wighton was invited to train with the Blues as part of their preparations for Origin II, but his four to eight-week stint sidelined with a broken thumb has handed Croker a chance.
Ironically, Croker was having lunch at Sanctuary Cove, the Maroons' Gold Coast base, as part of a trip away for his girlfriend's birthday when he got the call to join the Blues camp at Coffs Harbour.
"She's still up there. It was cut short but there's something I'd rather be doing here I'd say,'' Croker said.
"I certainly didn't expect it and that's why I was up on the Gold Coast. I was pretty pumped.''
His career-best form has been rewarded, now he wants to use the camp as a spur to help the Raiders win back respect for the rest of the season.
"I'd give all those tries back for the team to be up in the top eight,'' he said.
"It's about just getting that respect back. We had a bright start to the season, and it's come undone for us.
"We definitely want to string some games together, cause some upsets, play to the potential we can and get some confidence going forward.''
Wighton's injury against the Tigers could not have come at a worse time for the Raiders, who are already struggling to score points and could ill-afford to lose one of their few x-factors.
It may open the door for Brenko Lee, who scored two tries on the wing against the Tigers, to get an audition at his preferred centre position.
Croker is unsure whether coach Ricky Stuart will head down that path, but backed the 18-year-old to be up for the challenge before his third NRL game against the Titans on the Gold Coast next Sunday.
The 23-year-old can relate, having made his debut at the same age the year after featuring in Canberra's 2008 under-20 premiership.
"I wish I was playing as well as him when I was 18, he's killing it,'' Croker said.
"If he [Stuart] goes that way, he'd be fine. It's his natural position and where he's played most of this footy, he'd embrace it.''
Croker said Lee's confidence and power had been particularly impressive, and insists Canberra will be far more dangerous next year when Wighton and Edrick Lee (ankle) are both back from injury.
"He's confident, his second game [against Wests] he made a line break and chip and chased the fullback for a try,'' Croker said.
"I'm still too scared to do that when I make a break.
"The way he's carrying the ball and dints the defence, he doesn't seem like an 18-year-old.''