Raider for life

BY DAN

Jarrod Croker has signed a four-year extension to stay in Canberra. This latest contract makes it almost certain he’ll be a Raider for his entire career. If it’s a bit on the fat side, at least it’s recognition of the importance of him to the Raiders from his debut in 2009 to today. His commitment to the Milk is as admirable and unwavering as his consistent performance.

Jarrod Croker was already going to be remembered as a great of the Green Machine. That’s a heady list to be a part of. Origin players, Australian captains and, most of all, premiership winners. Croker has yet to scale the heights of those giants, but he’s still special to Canberra. A long term player of quality, in recent years he’s almost always been in the conversation come selection time for Origin, only to be left on the cutting room floor. His longevity and consistency has proved as substantial as the peaks of other giants may have.

Croker’s importance to the Green Machine is more than just his talent, it’s been as a life raft in dark times, a constant purveyor of pride in the green jersey.

Croker became a permanent member of the side in 2009 and has barely missed a moment since. He has been a constant in the Raiders’ experience, a link that has held together the good, bad and otherworldly experiences of the last 10 plus years.

This longevity is testament not just to his talent and consistency on the field but also to his character. Croker has never returned from the offseason out of shape. He’s never had issues off the field. As younger players with bigger names have come and gone from first grade, he’s been able to turn up, perform and be counted. When it’s not gone right Croker didn’t shy from responsibility. He stood up; embracing his importance to the club and the city. A club captain at just 24, his resolve hasn’t wavered in the face of adversity and often chaos. It’s like Rudyard Kipling wrote “If” for him.

If reports are to be believed (and they’re probably not), the price of Croker is surprisingly high; upwards of 600k a year, more than anyone else in the Raiders backline outside of Jack Wighton. This becomes the central question for those that would raise an eyebrow to this signature. At 29, he’s not as quick as he was (as evidenced by when he got run down by a stray Morris against the Sharks last year). He’s never been physically dominant, and can be a small body in the defensive line. Last year he averaged 1.7 tackle breaks per game, which was closer to Aidan Sezer (1.4) than to BJ Leilua (3.3), Charnze (3.3) or Cotric (3.2). 600k is a lot for a back that is not representative calibre (at least in the eyes of the selectors).

Whether Croker can provide the “highs” this deal suggests is a pertinent question. When a game needs breaking Croker offers smart ball-play and consistent outcomes. Will that suffice without more risky, but more dynamic players?

But Croker’s skills have never come from his physical ability, rather his intelligent play. His skills in ball-play remain criminally underrated (six try-assists and six line-break assists in 2019 are testament to that). His defence (and defensive courage) is mostly excellent. His 82 per cent tackle efficiency is on the high side for an outside back. And it’s been suggested by people smarter and more influential than me (so, like, everyone?) that his goal kicking is viewed as worth paying for given the dearth of shotmakers in the first grade squad. All of this done week-in, week-out. It adds up to the price tag. Regardless of where you’d prefer that money spent on more of a game-breaker, there’s an argument that it’s more safely spent on the certainty and consistency that Croker gives you.

Croker’s mark on the Green Machine will he felt well beyond his time with the club. At the very least his points-scoring records will stand for years to come, both for the Raiders and likely at the NRL level too. His consistency and constancy in a side that has been anything but that during his time will also be remembered. When they build a statue for him out the front of the new Civic Stadium in 2032, let’s hope it says “Jarrod Croker, premiership winner, Raider for life.”

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