Croker's faith in Fergo, Milford
Jarrod Croker says he is amazed by the pure, physical power Blake Ferguson, his centre partner at Canberra, displays on the football field.
Croker says it is up to the Raiders' forward pack to perform well enough to create the necessary space in which Ferguson and the team 's other attacking dynamo – fullback Anthony Milford – can do their thing against Canterbury at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
The clash is a huge one in terms of the battle for finals places. The Raiders are in ninth place, outside of the top eight on points for-and-against only. The Bulldogs are fifth, but are only two points ahead of the Raiders and still not guaranteed of making the finals at this stage.
It will be a rare Saturday-afternoon-at-3pm game and Croker says the Raiders are aiming to build on what they did against Sydney Roosters last weekend and shine in the mid-winter sun at home.
Canberra lost that game on the road against the competition leaders, 28-22, but it was nevertheless a big improvement on what happened the previous week, when they were obliterated 68-4 at home against Melbourne.
"We put together several good wins, but we knew we had stronger opposition coming up in the next few weeks," Croker said. "Still, I don't think anyone saw that coming against the Storm. I don't know what it was on the day, but everything they touched turned to gold.
"We put that one behind us and I thought last week against the Roosters was a very big turnaround, but in the end it was still the same result as the week before so we've got to build on that effort when we play the Bulldogs. If we can do that, we'll be a bit of a show on the weekend.
"The boys were down in the dumps for a couple of days after the Storm game. We knew we just didn't show up on that day and we had to come out against the top-of-the-ladder team and show a bit of ticker and attitude, and I thought the boys did that well.
"The big boys up front stood up for us against the Roosters, and it was just a couple of silly errors in our own half and last plays that were a bit off that cost us a chance at that game. We got ourselves back into it towards the end, but it was just a little too late."
Playing in his first NRL game since being stood down by the league as a disciplinary measure following an off-field incident in mid-June, and against a Roosters side that has the best defensive record in the competition, Ferguson's performance was extraordinary.
He made four line-breaks, scored two tries, had one offload and ran for 159 metres.
"Fergo played really well. He looked like he hadn't been away," Croker said. "He's that strong and powerful with the ball in his hand, he's very hard to handle. If we can get our big boys firing and test the Bulldogs up the middle, it will open things up for guys like Fergo and Tony Milford.
"That's obviously a goal for us on the weekend, so we'll see how we go with it. Fergo's one of the most powerful players I've played with. We all know how talented a player he is. He's come straight back into that devastating form, and hopefully it can continue."
The much smaller Milford is a vastly different sort of player to Ferguson, who can bust through tackles when he appears to be contained. Milford is tough for his size, but in attack it's all about the dancing feet and blinding acceleration with him.
Against the Roosters, Milford didn't cut loose as in some previous games this season, but he still ran for 190 metres and delivered four offloads.
There has been speculation about both Milford and Ferguson possibly wanting to leave the Raiders for family reasons at the end of the season, but Croker says that talk hasn't affected the form of either player or been a distraction for the team.
"Tony has been fine. He hasn't changed one bit, whether it's at training or in the games," Croker said. "I don't know if there's anything in this Fergo stuff, but I don't think it's going to affect him, either.
"As a team, we've had our fair share of off-field dramas this season and it hasn't affected us, I don't think. We're used to it, and we'll put it behind us."
The Bulldogs have lost two of their big forwards – Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood – to injury, but they have plenty more big boppers where they came from. Croker says the Raiders are concentrating on themselves, and not thinking about the Bulldogs having a couple of players out.
"It's about us now," he said. "We just need to take it a week at a time. We know how strong a side the Bulldogs are, and the quality of players they've got in their team, so we're going to have to be right on our game against them.
"We need to bring the same sort of attitude we had against the Roosters, but with a bit more composure, and hopefully we'll get back to those winning ways."
The Raiders have an awful points for-and-against differential of minus-110. The only teams with a worse differential are the three at the bottom of the competition table – Parramatta, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra.
But the differential, which obviously has the potential to hurt the Raiders if they finish the regular season level on points with one or more teams, has at least ensured they are focused solely on winning – and not worrying about the table.
"There's no maths for us, mate," Croker said. "We just need to get the two points at the end of the game. Our for-and-against isn't good, so we just need to look at the big picture and win games. That's all we're worried about."