Rugby League


Croker can't be complacent

Raiders centre Jarrod Croker knows he will need to lift his defence if he is to keep his spot, LEE GASKIN writes

COMPLACENCY is Jarrod Croker's arch enemy as the Canberra Raiders centre fights to avoid the dreaded selection axe for the first time in his NRL career.

Croker knows he risks being leapfrogged by one of the club's promising youngsters if he takes his spot in the Raiders back line for granted.

Although still only 21, Croker will play his 80th first-grade match after being retained for Sunday's match against the Parramatta Eels at Canberra Stadium.

The Goulburn junior has barely missed a game since bursting on to the scene in 2009 and he has been touted as a future representative player.

But his position came under intense scrutiny after the Raiders were thumped 44-22 by the Cronulla Sharks a fortnight ago.

He has borne the brunt of the criticism for the Raiders' left-edge defence, which has been badly exposed on several occasions during the opening nine rounds of the competition.


''You can't really get too comfortable otherwise you get stuff like that in the paper, saying you will be dropped the next week,'' Croker said.

''If I miss a game or put in a bad performance, I know my spot's in jeopardy.

''You have to play your best footy every week to keep your spot in the side.

''It's good to get this far already but I'm not really looking at it like that.

''I just want to play well each week and don't want to give anyone else a chance.''

Raiders coach David Furner has showed this year he's not afraid to make the big decisions and drop established players. Kiwi international Bronson Harrison has been named as 18th man to face the Eels, while hooker Glen Buttriss is also missing from the line-up.

Imposing centre Edrick Lee has been turning plenty of heads in the Raiders' under-20s team and has been training with the club's first-grade squad for the past month.

Jack Wighton stepped up to the mark with an impressive performance at right centre in last week's 18-12 loss to the Sea Eagles.

Croker had a solid match against the defending premiers, with his combination in defence with halfback Sam Williams continuing to improve.

The season-ending knee injury to Raiders captain Terry Campese has forced Croker to take on a more senior role in the Raiders' left-edge defence.

''Sammy Williams is really coming of age and defending a lot better than what we both did last year,'' Croker said.

''Defensively as a whole left edge, that's the main focus we've been looking at.

''It's not that we can't score tries, it's been our defence.

''If we stick together and build on last week's defence I think we'll be a lot better for the run.''

The Raiders are wary of underestimating a last-placed Eels side desperate for just their second win of the season.

Croker pointed to dynamic fullback Jarryd Hayne and maligned halfback Chris Sandow as attacking weapons the Raiders would need to shut down if they are to enter the bye with a 4-6 win/loss record.

''They're not as bad a side as they are sitting on the ladder,'' Croker said.

''Hayne is the sort of player that if you let him run he'll carve you up.

''Hopefully we can get these two points and kick-start our season.''