Date: July 21 2012
MICHAEL Crocker is a keeper of the flame, helping to uphold the tradition that is the brutally physical nature of the game. The sort of player who just goes out and does it, with a level of body-on-the-line commitment that demands respect. It has been proven he's someone you can win a premiership with, which is critical to a fast-rising South Sydney team.
Not that you will get Crocker or any of his Rabbitohs teammates to make outrageous predictions. They are firmly and willingly under the spell of coach Michael Maguire, whose mantra is that you if you work hard, follow the plan and not get ahead of yourself, you stay in the team and you might achieve something. But that's another story.
This one is about the hard edge you need if your team is going to do well, and Crocker is as hard as they come. Crocker likes playing it tough, and he appreciates being seen as an example of someone who thrives on that most testing element of the sport. It was ground into him while he was a young player, and he has stayed that way.
''I learned it at Redcliffe, from playing with some pretty tough men,'' Crocker explains. ''You don't show weakness.''
This is a guy who admits, with a laugh, that he was ''a bit of a sook'' as a kid. But that is the last thing you would call the adult Crocker. He hits hard, and he takes the same knocks without complaint. He is tremendous to single out and watch in a game, if you want to get a great example of what it takes to be a force.
And his work continues at training. Crocker, say Souths insiders, is one of those men you don't want catching you cutting corners, because he'll let you know it's not the thing to do.
''We have our rules, as players, at training,'' he says. ''That's so that the coach doesn't have to worry about that sort of stuff. It's something I'm used to from being coached by 'Sticky' [Ricky Stuart, at Sydney Roosters]. One step short of a line, or if a bloke touches the post instead of going around it … No one can be doing that, because you're only as strong as your weakest player. That's how it should be in a team.''
Crocker won premierships with the Roosters, in 2002, and Melbourne, in 2007, although the title with the Storm was wiped from the record books after the club was found to have cheated the salary cap. Souths fans are naturally excited about their team's chances of winning a premiership in the near future, but the players aren't letting the expectations of others distract them from their game plan.
Maguire and Crocker, who is one of a number of co-captains at Souths but who seems to front most of the post-match media conferences, don't fall for questions that are designed to get them talking about the team's chances of winning the competition. It's an approach that is serving them well, so they don't make any apologies for it.
''I know people get sick of us saying it, but there's no point in getting ahead of yourself,'' Crocker says. ''It's about putting your best performance on the field, each week. The coach has driven that from day one.''
Maguire, who was an assistant coach to Craig Bellamy at Melbourne when Crocker was there, knows exactly what he's got in this player.
''He has become a real pro, and it's his devotion to his preparation and recovery that enables him to play as rugged as he does,'' Maguire says. ''He puts everything into his game. He wears his heart on his sleeve and pushes the other players to do their best - he's a great part of the team environment.''
Crocker is proud to talk about the club's proud tradition, built on great, premiership-winning teams and some of the game's most famous players.
''You never forget what those players did for the club,'' Crocker says. ''I'm honoured to be a part of the club. There is a lot of history here, and it's a pleasure to be able to spend time with some of those great players.''
Among those Souths greats are some of the game's toughest. John Sattler, George Piggins and others. They were fearless during what many people regard as the toughest era in the game. So when someone like Piggins describes Crocker as his kind of player, it speaks volumes about Crocker's heart.
''He's a bit old school,'' Piggins says. ''He's a good player, with a tough workrate. He's a leader, who has a lot to say in a game. He's been around for a while, and they need that experience out there.
''If the game gets tough, then he is one of those blokes who will stick around. He's got a lot to offer.''
Crocker will be offering it again, when Souths play St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium tonight.
He'll do his job, and he won't complain, because that's the way he is.
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