The Rugby League World Cup started this weekend, and there’s a host of Canberra players involved.
It’s been that way for much of the Raiders’ history. Since the mid 80s the Milk have been stacked with internationals. And because of their wide and varied sources of players, they’ve had players represent a range of nations, including all the ones you’d expect but also Scotland (Scott Logan), Italy (Terry Campese, Luke Davico, Mark Corvo, Paul Vaughan), France (Demetri Pelo), Cook Islands (Jordan Rapana) and even the United States of America (Brandon Costin). They’ve even provided not one, but two different coaches for the America’s favourite rugby league team (Matthew Elliott and Sean Rutgerson). Only two coaches in Canberra history haven’t coached internationally, depending on how you feel about Andrew Dunneman.
So yeah, international football and the Canberra Raiders get along.
But, international football is difficult to crack. The best of the best (theoretically). Plenty of good and even great players inexplicably miss out. Take Matt Timoko. He had an impressive season for the Milk, yet Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is theoretically lining up there for the Kiwis in tomorrow morning’s campaign opener against the Cedars. Another example is Alan Tongue who broke his body repeatedly for the club, for the game, and taught a generation of players that you could wish pain away with the power of being Alan Tongue. He played 220 games for the the good guys and still never got close to playing for his country. There are amazing players that have played for the Raiders who never got a shot.
Perhaps most important to me on this list is Jarrod Croker. It’s not so much that he deserved to or didn’t. He was usually in the conversation but it never felt realistic that he’d get picked. There were bigger players, flashier players, higher status players (and probably better players) that got picked ahead of him. Even when he was reportedly in contention, something gross like injury would come along and ruin everything. Fate isn’t just fickle, he’s a jerk who’s had too much to drink and you bumped him on the dance floor.
So sometimes good players miss out. Not because they’re not good enough. Just because the twists of fate or timing of their form meets with other talents. Sometimes they played origin but not international. Sometimes they played neither but should have played both. Sometimes they were just good footy players in the best competition in the world. And that is enough
So let’s not forget the others. Those that toiled away below the radar. Those that earned our love and respect even if they never got their name read out by the Coach of Australia. Without further adieu I give you the Jarrod Croker All-Stars.
Before we get going a bit of housekeeping. This is mostly done off memory and a bit of googling. Playing internationals means for anyone, so Scott Logan’s six tests for Scotland (they named the whole country after him?) and Brandon Costigan’s Hawks career matter just the same as Mal Meninga’s FORTY SIX TESTS for Australia. If I missed someone obvious it’s because I’m an idiot and you can have your money back.
Fullback: Clinton Schifcofske
Belcher. Mullins. Dugan. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Clinton Schifcofske. I’d argue that these were the greatest fullbacks to ever put on the lime green (even if Choka played more in the awful Ozemail green jerseys than any other). Schifcofske played origin, but despite being the Raiders best player and about 46 per cent of their entire offence for a five year period, he is the only one of this group to never play internationally. Perhaps that’s why he shifted to Union.
Wingers: Adam Mogg and Matthew Wood
Raiders’ wingers have played a lot of internationals. Jordan Rapana has been a mainstay of the Kiwi side for a while, as was Sean Hoppe once upon a time. Nic Cotric played two tests for Australia in 2019. Back in the day Chicka Ferguson played three in 1985. Noa Nadruku obviously played for Fiji. Kenny Nagas played Super League tests.
Adam Mogg famously played Origin. I say famously because those two games he played are about as simultaneously magnificent and unexpected as you can get at that level. If I never thought he was going to play origin, it would have been a whole other level of surprise for him to don the green and gold. Still. He was rad.
One day I’m going to corner Matthew Wood and ask him how he kept his head straight walking amongst legends. The backline he played in was stars and club heroes at every position. And then there was Matty Woods, finishing off the most inventive and brilliant rugby league the world had seen to that point. A man could get lost in amongst the stars. He never did.
Centres: Jarrod Croker and Matt Timoko
Jarrod Croker spent the best part of a decade being the Canberran’s and contrarian’s pitch for representative spots, both at origin and international level. Wayne Bennett pitched him for origin in 2016. Later that year Mal Meninga said he (and BJ Leilua) missed out on the end-of-season Four Nations tour because of injury (thanks Cam Smith). But despite always being in the conversation for higher honours, he never cracked the side. We’ll give him this listicle. It’s almost as good right?
Matt Timoko might just be the new version. After proving himself a quality first grader over his two years in the top line, he’s found fascinating ways to get left out of the Kiwi team. First it was so mostly second-rower Marata Niukore could play a center in the mid-year test. Then he was left out of the Kiwi squad so club mate Seb Kris could get in ahead of him, and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad could play out of position. Let’s hope he’s not the new Croker.
Five-eighth: Chris O’Sullivan
Two time premiership winner. Two time Mal Meninga medalist (before it was called that obviously). When he retired it was as the most capped Raider on 202 games. Owner of the most important field goal in Canberra Raiders history, as well as the most important bomb. Scored the Milk’s only try in the ’87 decider. He’s a club legend who sometimes gets forgotten in the mess of the golden years.
Halfback: Aidan Sezer
The Raiders signing George Williams is quite the sliding doors moment. It meant Aidan – who had been a critical part of the 2019 grand final – was pushed out the door. It meant he left the NRL, despite at the time being better than probably half the starting 7s in the competition. He never fully flourished with the Milk, but I’ll always be sad he left. The closest he got to rep honours was when Joey Johns (bless his heart) called for him and Blake Austin to be the Blues halves after one game in 2016. Good times Joey. Good times.
Note: Reader Tim pointed out Aidan was in the squad for Turkey with Emre Guler in the Emerging Nations Champs in 2018 but as far as we can tell never played.
Props: Josh Miller and Todd Payten
You could make an entire article on the amazing props that have played for Canberra. There’s a long list of players that have been quality, and have never even sniffed rep footy, not even for a Tier 2 country.
Josh Miller gets in because he was made of cement (head to toe). Back in the day we used to joke that his favourite hobby was running into things. He snagged two Mal Meninga medals by being a human battering ram: if there was something to hit he smashed it. If there was somewhere to run he wasn’t interested in gaps or space. He wanted contact. If he played these days they’d name the Head Injury Protocol after him.
Todd Payten was the opposite. A thinking man’s prop. He was famously a halfback carrying an extra 25 kilograms. What a pair he and Miller would make. The odd couple (*sings the odd couple song*)
Hooker: Simon Woolford
Germ is very much the predecessor to Jarrod Croker in this regard. He played quality football for 15 years in the NRL and outside of a bit of Country football, never really looked like cracking a representative side. He’ll have to settle for club captain, legend, and father of a future Raiders’ premiership winner (I presume).
Backrowers: Joel Thompson and Brett Hetherington
There was a time where I was convinced that Joel Thompson, Joe Picker and Shaun Fensom would form a triumvirate in the Canberra back row that would bring us back to the promised land. All three were excellent footballers but you know, maybe I got a bit carried away. Thompson had a top career, bringing pace and good defence to the edge.
Brett Hetherington is here because he was a hard-running second-rower that was a big part of some of the best teams that ever existed (and also a 2022 Canberra Raiders hall-of-fame inductee). He’s a slightly controversial choice because he did play for Australia in the Super League 9s in 1997. I honestly don’t know what to do with that information. When I think of him I also think of David Barnhill and Nigel Gaffey, who were backrowers that left the club in the early 90s (I can’t remember if it was specifically because of the salary cap saga in both cases but I’m sure the cap played a role) that made it necessary that he come good. He didn’t disappoint.
Reader Pati points out I missed Hudson Young here which given I named Timoko and wrote an ENTIRE GODDAMN ARTICLE about Hudson missing out is probably a fair point.
Lock: Alan Tongue
Honestly I could have put Shaun Fensom here and been just as happy. Or Dean Lance. Alan was all effort; half man half pain threshold, and was the person that convinced me that work ethic, determination and will to push yourself were a skill as important as passing or tackling. People loved to say that if he was from Queensland he would have played 20 origins. Well maybe the Queenslanders on the Australian selection panel could have picked him for the ‘Roos…jerks…I guess he’ll have to settle for being a captain and legend of the Milk.
Bench: Dean Lance, Shaun Fensom, Corey Horsbrugh, Troy Thompson
If Dean Lance got hit by a truck he wouldn’t notice. In fact the truck wouldn’t have hit him, he’d have laid it out like he did Steve Roach in ’89.
Fensom got pipped by Tongue for 13 but he can’t miss out altogether.
Like Timoko, Horsburgh shouldn’t be on this list for long, but I wanted to flag that I’ve basically said this guy would play origin the last two years and it hasn’t happened yet. But it will. The kid is a gun.
Troy Thompson gets in because he was great for the Raiders for many years and for all reports was a fun hang. And he won the Meninga medal in 2005
Coach: David Furner
It was him or Neil Henry. Wait, can I choose Craig Bellamy?
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