With the recent rumours about Curtis Scott coming to Canberra, most Raiders fans got to thinking about what that might mean for the roster. We had our say (check it out here), but the rumour was barely getting warm before people were calling for it to mean Jarrod Croker slid over from centre to winger to accommodate the Storm star. Chances are if you read these pages you don’t need to be told this, but that would be a less than perfect idea.
Once upon a time all a winger had to be was fast. They were employed to get the ball and go. Straight lines, open space and tries in the corner. Brett Dallas was lightening. Noa Nadruku, ran like a puppy who’d been taken to the park for the first time. Being small was no hindrance. I always loved Matthew Wood when I was young, precisely because he seemed to be a normal size human. The cliche has always been they were the Ferrari on the sideline – not designed for every day use, but capable of performance that would thrill.
Modern wingers still thrill the crowds but they’ve changed the way that they do it. The removal of the corner post from consideration of whether a player was in or out ensured that. In almost any week of the NRL you can see players contort their bodies with flexibility that would impress Dhalsim (Street Fighter 2 people. Look it up. It was super cool. Do kids still say cool? Lit? I digress). They do this while remaining the fastest people on the field.
But more than how they party, the nature of their of how they work has changed. These days wingers need to be powerful – not just for the work they do in scoring, but also because of the workload they have at the other end of the ground.
They still need to be quick, but nowadays a huge part of the wingers role comes in taking the hardest yardage carries as your favourite team struggles off their own goal line. It means that wingers are now an increidble mixture of pace and power. Jordan Rapana, Maka Sivo, Ken Maulmalo are part tank, part Ferrari, depending on the situation in which they find their hands on the ball. It’s become one of the most important positions on the field, requiring the most athletic bodies to carry out.
And this is where the idea of moving Jarrod Croker to the wing falls down. Croker is a lot of things – an underrated ball-player, a brilliant runner on the edges, a surprisingly effective tackler for his size (though admittedly prone to some less-than-perfect decision making). In short, he’s 93 kegs of hot blood and courage. He’s a useful yardage carry, but nowhere near as effective his colleagues. Cotric (98 metres per game), Simonsson (118 mpg), Rapana (120 mpg), Oldfield (102 mpg) all averaged substantially more metres than Croker (82 mpg), and the majority of that comes through yardage. Admittedly, outside of the Warriors, the Raiders back three is as good as any in the competition in yardage terms.
Shifting Croker to the wing puts him in a situation where he’s required to take 15 or so carries a game in yardage work. Croker would be able to handle this, but it would weaken a significant strength for the Raiders. In 2020 Simonsson and Cotric should take this carries, not Croker.
In addition, his aforementioned ball-playing ability would go under-utilised. There’s a reason the Raiders left side was far and away it’s most potent in attack. Jack Wighton has been brilliant, but his play is subsidised by the excellent ball play of Croker (and Whitehead). Croker’s six try assists were reflective of his brilliant combination with Wighton built over years, and his complimentary skill set. Moving him a further step from Wighton would be a bad fit for Croker and a bad fit for the Green Machine.
Sidebar: It’s also worth pointing out that Jarrod might not be as quick as he was in his younger days. Getting run down by old man Morris (Josh I think) against the Sharks was indicative that his top speed isn’t quite what it was
Another factor in favour of keeping Croker just where he lives is his defensive positioning. In the modern game, the edge defensive positions are the hardest to play. So often you’re having to make a choice between a rock and a hard place, and being blamed for a battle that was lost two or three places inside you. He’s only had a season playing alongside Jack Wighton, and it wasn’t perfect, but there was enough success to suggest this combination is worth persisting with.
Whether Curtis Scott is coming to Canberra remains an active question. Smarter people than me have weighed in on it, and to be honest, no outcome would surprise me at this stage. But if he does come, I would shock me if it pushed Croker to the wing. As a stop-gap solution he’s perfect. As a permanent position it weakens both him and the side.