The Canberra Raiders got the confirmation no one wanted but everyone expected when the club acknowledged that Jarrod Croker would be out for the season.
This is a diabolical outcome that exacerbates an already shitty situation. For starters, it sucks for Jarrod. He’s had an awful time since suffering injuries at the back end of the 2020 season. He’s done everything right in trying to come back from injury. He’s kept his head down and worked. He didn’t complain when he was left out the starting side earlier in the season, choosing instead to earn his spot. He did so, and showed briefly showed that he was capable of performing at the top level before succumbing to injury again.
For him this season was about establishing that a downswing in form was from fluke injuries rather than a body giving up. Injuries like this do nothing to help. It was a freak occurrence, but one that unless handled adroitly, could deteriorate even further. I’m no NRL Physio, but I’ve known enough people with shoulder problems to know that they can be hard to shake. Croker has managed to fight back from debilitating and potentially career defining injuries only to be faced with another through no fault of his own.
We’d written at the beginning of this season that this year would be a chance for Croker to see if he could compete at the top level still, and if not, potentially go out on his own terms. This injury provides no closure in either direction, extending last year’s problem – whether his body is up to it – out for a further year. Croker is no closer to knowing if it’s time. Even Sisyphus would be bummed.
For the club it’s just as bad. Croker has two substantial years left on his deal, and is now half way through an extension during which he’s barely played. He signed it just as we were heading into chaos at the beginning of 2020, it started in 2021, and well, he’ll be through more than two years of it before we know if he’ll ever play first grade again. There’s no clarity either on whether Jarrod will be able to contribute next year, just a hope and some deep breaths. Given Jarrod is (rightly) determined to find a way back, medical retirement feels unlikely. Meanwhile Canberra watch a chunk of their salary cap go unused, with no surety about whether it will ever be productive. There’s a lesson there for the club about signing extensions so far out for veterans, but that’s a tale for another time, or whenever Elliott Whitehead gets hurt.
And there’s clowns like us, hoping against hope that Jarrod can make it happen again, for the Raiders, for himself, for those of us that just want to see the man happy. It’s arguable no one has given more to the club. When leadership was needed he stood up, becoming responsible for the issues of others. He became the face of mediocrity before his time, sitting next to Coach Stuart in all those losing weeks, accepting blame for problems that were caused by a number of sources, none of them him. He sacrificed his body and his mind, copping the bruises and blame for not being an era defining talent. Croker hasn’t been an immortal. He’s took the lemons of fate and painted that shit gold, going from hope to excellence and then nearly the promised land. And all he got was a lousy t-shirt and people demanding even more, or demanding he retire for the club. Take one for the team, one last time.
It’s hard though. From here there’s nothing but pain, and even if he manages to overcome surgery, and the rehab, and the working his way up from reggies again, he’ll be doing it while the next generation makes his spot their own. There’s only so much left in his body. Father time remains undefeated.
For Croker we hope this isn’t it. He deserves better. He’s earned leave the game knowing he’s given every last effort in his body for the glory of the Canberra Raiders. I don’t want to say goodbye to him as he rounds Bruce on a car, or like Josh Hodgson, blowing the horn. I want one last courageous victory, one last flick pass, one last incisive run, and even an ineffective tackle jamming in on a bigger player. Let him walk of the ground proud, rather than in pain. He deserves no less.
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