How Good Is... Jarrod Croker
Last year may not have been the happiest of seasons overall for the Green Machine but prolific point-scoring centre Jarrod Croker went from strength to strength, topping 200 individual points and getting a call-up to Laurie Daley's extended Blues squad as part of his development.
Croker came out of the Raiders' dominant 2008 NYC squad along with the likes of Shaun Fensom and Josh Dugan and made his NRL debut in 2009, scoring 12 tries. Since taking over the goal-kicking duties in 2010 he's scored well over 100 points per season and has passed the 200 mark twice – with 202 points in 2014 and an NRL-high 226 in 2012.
What made 2014 so special?
Croker went to the proverbial next level in 2014. That call-up to the Origin squad for the first time was a nod to his consistency and his attacking prowess. His 18 tries in 2014 was his most ever and to be the competition's fourth-highest point-scorer in a year when your team ran second last is no mean feat.
His 14 line breaks was second best at the club after Anthony Milford, and compared favourably with the two best centres in the competition – Konrad Hurrell (18) and Steve Matai (17). Even more impressively: competition-wide, only Eels duo Jarryd Hayne (20) and Semi Radradra (19) scored more than Croker's 18 tries in the regular season.
How can he be better in 2015?
Croker continues to be criticised for defensive lapses and while he can hardly shoulder sole blame for Canberra's poor for-and-against, his left edge post continues to leak points for the Green Machine.
Still, his 41 missed tackles in 24 games was only the 88th-most in the NRL, so plenty of players are missing tackles than Croker and most of those played fewer games.
Even among regular centres, there were 12 players with more defensive lapses than Croker, headed by Knight Dane Gagai (87 misses) but also including some pretty big names and rep players, such as Will Hopoate (70), Dean Whare (63), Will Chambers (55), Steve Matai (54) and Jamie Lyon (47). Still, it's definitely something to strive for for the talented three-quarter.
Which new signing will have the greatest influence on him?
Canberra could potentially have a very new-look spine in 2015 which will affect pretty much everyone in the squad but particularly the outside backs, for whom many of their opportunities come from the quality ball their playmakers deliver.
For Croker, the addition of Blake Austin – probably at five-eighth or possibly into the hooking rotation or even at fullback – could lead to even greater opportunities for Croker to score or convert tries. English Test hooker Josh Hodgson could also have a big role to play here.
The addition of Storm right-side winger Sisa Waqa is less likely to have an impact, with Croker looking likely to resume his left-edge combination with Edrick Lee.