BUILT like the toughest of back-rowers, Raiders flyer Jarrod Croker proved a real handful in the Under-20s Green Machine’s successful premiership charge last season.
And with a devastating shoulder-charge and blistering speed, it’s little wonder NRL coach David Furner has drafted the powerhouse youngster in as part of his top-grade side in 2009 – despite the fact the centre is just 18 years of age.
Tipping the scales at 92 kilograms and standing 184cm, the 2007 Australian Schoolboy is a monster in the making. And like his 2006 Schoolboys counterpart Israel Folou, Croker is set to terrorise opponents at NRL level well before his 19th birthday.
“A lot of schoolboys players over the years have gone on to NRL footy and I’m really hoping to follow that same path,” says Croker, running off names from the 2006 team such as Folau, Chris Sandow and Chris Lawrence.
“I’m a Goulburn boy through and through and have played footy my whole life. NRL’s my dream and even though I’m eligible for Toyota Cup for another two seasons, I feel I’m ready to make the step up should the opportunity arise.
“I’m pretty big for my age, and for a centre, and I definitely feel I’m powerful enough.
“It’s just a matter of working hard now against some good competition to get my chance – and make the most of it.”
First things first, you share a name with one of Canberra’s favourite sons in Jason Croker; any relation?
[Laughs] Nah! I think we’re distantly related, like as second or third cousins, but I’ve never met him. My dad knows him, but I don’t. I get it all the time, though. It’s not a bad surname to have in Canberra.
What are your goals for this year?
I got off to a slow start last season and now I really want to get off on a good foot straight away. First grade is the ultimate goal, though. Dave Furner has had a chat to me and a few other guys and said we’re in line for a first-grade start and if we do well in -20s then we might get a chance – and that’s really encouraging.
You’re a Goulburn boy and a born-and-bred rugby league player. What’s your background in footy?
I played at fullback and in the centres for NSW and Australian Schoolboys in 2007 and NSW Under-18s last year. And I’ve played under-16s, under-18s and Toyota Cup with the Raiders. I went through the clinics in Canberra when I was in under-12s and when I was 15 I was picked in the Raiders’ Harold Matthews side. I’ve played every year for them since then.
What can you provide the Raiders with out wide?
Obviously there’s speed, but probably size, too. I’m fairly well built and I think my size and strength is a big asset. I’m probably an aggressive sort of player, too. I don’t mind trying to put the odd shoulder charge on and getting in the thick of things.
What’s a part of your game you’ve improved over the pre-season?
I’ve been working a lot on defence because it’s a tough position to defend in, the centre – working on inside or outside men and whether to come in or move out. And whether to hold the line or not – it’s tough.
Who do you look up to?
Joel Monaghan, for sure. He’s a NSW and Australian centre and he’s one of the best in the game. He’s great at training, too. He gives me a lot of tips. I actually had a training run outside of him a couple of weeks ago and he was awesome; he’s a really good talker and just someone who makes you feel comfortable. I’m learning everything I possibly can from him.
You’ve been in the Raiders’ system for years; have you taken any precautions for after football?
I’m on a traineeship with a couple of other guys at the club. We work at the club and go around to schools and help kids out with development. It’s pretty rewarding and a good experience. We go to high schools, primary schools and kindergartens and just teach them the basics of the game; it obviously depends on the age as to what we teach them. We’re also looking at doing a strength-and-conditioning/fitness course to get a ticket and work experience, so we’re prepared for the world after footy.
Do you commute from Goulburn for training?
Actually, I live in Tuggeranong with a family. There’s an old lady who looks after me really well and she’s lovely. I’ve been there for a year now and she really spoils me.
But I try to get home to Goulburn as often as I can.
There’s a lot of competition for backline positions at the Raiders; how will you combat that to give yourself the best shot at playing NRL footy?
It’s obviously going to be a tough path. You can’t expect to walk straight into NRL football. I’m just going to have to do everything on and off the field I can to make sure I give myself the best possible chance.
You’re a one-club man so far. Do you plan to stay at the Raiders?
For sure – I love the club. I’m contracted until the end of 2010 and I see this as my year to really impress the coaching staff so I can stay on well past that… fingers crossed!