Stuart: Croker's contract a show of faith
He says that he never even considered joining another club but the extension of Canberra captain Jarrod Croker's contract at the nation's capital for a further two years is an endorsement of the Raiders' environment according to coach Ricky Stuart.
Like Stuart earlier in the season, Croker added a further two years to his current deal that doesn't expire until the end of next season, making him a Raider until the end of the 2020 season by which time he will own most of the club's major records and still be just 30 years of age at season's end.
Already the club's leading point-scorer, if Croker continues on the trend he has shown over the past eight seasons when this latest contract expires he will trail only Jason Croker for most games for Canberra and become just the seventh player in history to reach 2,000 career points.
But more than the myriad of individual accomplishments Stuart is adamant that by committing to the club long-term Croker has provided a ringing endorsement for the Canberra set-up and what the current playing group is capable of achieving.
"It's a sign of faith, it's a sign of strength with regards to knowing what's coming ahead of us," Stuart said on Thursday.
"We're starting to build experience around our squad. A number of boys have signed, Don [Furner, Raiders CEO] is in communication with a number of the other guys and I leave that to Don and the players."
Already this year Croker, Joey Leilua, Jordan Rapana and Jack Wighton have committed themselves to the Raiders for the next couple of years with the club also confident of extending Elliott Whitehead's contract which currently carries through until the end of next season.
"Elliott's one of a few that Don's in communication with," Stuart confirmed.
"It's not something that I get concerned about. What I try and do is keep creating an environment for the players to want to be here.
"When you get players re-signing, that gives me great faith that we're going along the right direction and creating the right environment for a professional football team that are happy and see that there's a future here."
Currently in his third full season as captain and still just 26 years of age, Croker said that leading the club for the next three years will only be satisfying if he can lead them to a drought-breaking premiership.
"To be able to lead this club is one thing but to lead them to a premiership is at the top of my list," Croker said. "I think we've got the squad here to push for that.
"I love this club. I've been here for a long time now and hopefully a lot longer.
"It's my home. Being from Goulburn, Canberra was my club close by and since I come through the under-14s, 15s through all the developments it's always been the place I wanted to be, ever since I pulled on the green jersey in the under-15s.
"I never wanted to pull on a different one. It's become my home and I'm very grateful for the memories I've had so far and I look forward to more in the future."
In addition to his on-field leadership, try-scoring ability (105 career tries) and goal-kicking prowess (574 goals at better than 81 per cent) Stuart said that Croker plays an integral role in helping him to create the environment that makes players want to stay at the club.
"Jarrod is a great help to me as a coach," said Stuart as the Raiders prepare to put their finals hopes on the line against the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday.
"We've got a great friendship and a lot of trust between both of us which from a coach's point of view is really nice to have, knowing the fact that you've got your captain helping you with decisions and helping you creating the culture and the environment around the football team.
"It's really important news for the club. It's exciting the fact that we've got our captain on board and still many years ahead of him.
"He's got so many milestones at the moment and achievements ahead of him that it will be an exciting part of his career coming ahead."