Rugby League

NRL: Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart hopes Jason Croker passes on Green Machine tradition

The Canberra Raiders are set to unleash a Croker triple-threat on the Auckland Nines and coach Ricky Stuart hopes the return of club great Jason Croker helps pass on the Green Machine tradition to a new generation.

Stuart is yet to announce his team for the pre-season tournament on February 6-7, but Fairfax Media understands Jarrod Croker is likely to join namesake Jason and young gun Lachlan Croker in New Zealand.

Old school: Raiders coach Ricky Stuart hopes former premiership-winning teammate Jason Croker passes on club tradition ...
Old school: Raiders coach Ricky Stuart hopes former premiership-winning teammate Jason Croker passes on club tradition at the Auckland Nines. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The Raiders are finalising their roster for the trip to Auckland, with Paul Vaughan and Shannon Boyd also in contention for a squad largely made up of rising players on the cusp of the NRL.

Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker will also play in the Indigenous All Stars match as well as the pre-season trial against the Newcastle Knights in Orange.

Juggling act: Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is yet to finalise his line-up for the Auckland Nines.
Juggling act: Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is yet to finalise his line-up for the Auckland Nines. Photo: Graham Tidy

Stuart's premiership-winning teammate Jason Croker, 42, will play for the Raiders again 10 years after he retired from the NRL.

He played 318 games, the most of any player in Raiders history, and Stuart hopes the veteran's presence instils pride in the next batch of players.

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"I think it's fantastic for the younger players, even though it's Nines, just to have Jason tour with us," Stuart said.

"I know 'Toots' and his competitive nature. The guys will get to experience that and what the Raiders mean to 'Toots'. That's really important for me.

"Playing is great, and it's going to be fantastic to have him on the field. But it's what he does for the young blokes that's going to add another edge."

Croker has been cleared by NRL medical staff to make a comeback after passing fitness and heart tests.

Stuart joked he was on a mission to get Croker to play 18 consecutive minutes in one of the matches at the tournament.

But the significance of his comeback, which follows that of Ken Nagas last year, will be felt when the juniors come through the ranks.

Croker and Stuart caught up away from training on Saturday to celebrate former Raiders masseuse Bobby Griffin's 80th birthday in Queanbeyan.

Croker's nephew Lachlan is rated as a rising star and it is understood he is in line to play again after featuring at the Auckland Nines last year.

"Jason is going to be a great asset for these younger players as well," Stuart said.

"We've got a few of the experienced guys going over, Jarrod's a chance. But there are some younger guys going over as well.

"It's just a chance and a good opportunity for the younger players to get a feel for playing against other internationals and other genuine first-grade players.

"Also, they can have a bit of fun. It's a bit of a reward for the off-season they've put in.

"It [Nines squad] will be pretty similar. I'll send some younger players over and give them some experience."

Stuart said five-eighth Blake Austin, on the comeback from shoulder surgery, is unlikely to play in the Orange trial.

Canberra are hopeful halves recruit Aidan Sezer will recover sufficiently from his shoulder operation to play.

Should Austin miss out, it would give half-back Sam Williams a chance to press his claims for a round one berth.

Lock Shaun Fensom is the other Raider in some doubt after he fractured his arm in a training mishap just before Christmas.

"I'm not expecting Blake to play, but in regards to the other two that's purely up to the medical staff," Stuart said.