Croker ready to do his best Green impression
New Manly Warringah Sea Eagles five-eighth Lachlan Croker is his own man but to fulfil his dream of being a permanent fixture in the NRL, he is willing to do his best Blake Green impersonation.
Croker is at pains to point out how highly he rates Green, but the stellar pivot has moved to the Warriors and Manly are in need of a No.6 just like him.
The 21-year-old Crookwell Green Devils junior is in the running to fill the vacancy, competing against the likes of Jackson Hastings and Tom Wright. The brief given by coach Trent Barrett is to create the floor plan for fullback Tom Trbojevic and halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to construct the attack.
"Game management is a big thing because that was Green's type of game and that's what Manly needed," Croker told NRL.com.
"At the moment that's what they need again – to allow Turbo and Cherry to play their games. That's what we've been told and that's what I'm trying to do. If I get the nod, I hope to be good at that."
It seems Croker already is. From all reports out of the club's training base at Narrabeen the former Canberra Raider is training the house down and in line for a start for the February 17 trial against the Cronulla Sharks and the February 24 match against the Sydney Roosters.
"I'd love to get a run in both of those. Even if it is a trial it would be great to play against the guys the Roosters and Sharks have in their halves," Croker said referring to the new Cronulla duo of Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan, and the fresh Roosters pairing of Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary.
Three of those four players have won premierships with three clubs.
"I'm more excited to play against those guys than nervous," Croker said, even though he has just one NRL game to his name – round 2 in 2016 in the Raiders' win over the Roosters.
"The way it was looking last year I'd never thought I'd get to play again and I'd miss out on facing those kind of guys. It's really special to play those types of players.
"That would help me know where I stand and where we stand as a team."
Croker, a former NSW under 18s, under 20s and Junior Kangaroos player at halfback as well as five-eighth, left Canberra after it became evident Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer had the halves spots locked up.
"That was the main driving factor that obviously the Raiders had two very good starting halves there; two established halves, which makes it hard for myself.
"Then there was the fact Manly were interested and both Baz (Barrett) and Cherry (Cherry-Evans) are very good halves in their own right. To be able to learn off them and improve my game was very tempting. Sometimes a change with your job is just as good as holiday."
But it is only a one-year deal.
"There's always a few concerns about how somebody goes in a new environment. It works both ways. They wanted to see what I'm like and I wanted to see what they're like," Croker said.
"So I understand that. It is a business but hopefully it ends up being a lot longer than a year."
It could well be as NSW coach Brad Fittler has named him in his Emerging Blues squad.
It's been quite a pre-season packed to the rafters with quality tutors. Croker has it daily in Barrett and Cherry-Evans and then got to enjoy a weekend camp with Andrew Johns and Fittler in the halves.
"It's always good to get into those teams because you pinch yourself at the guys around you. I've had a really good pre-season. And it's about this stage now that you're really sick of it and you want to start playing.
"Like every bloke here we want the football to come. It will be so interesting to see how we end up, how we land this year."
After suffering two anterior cruciate ligament tears (in 2014, 2016) and a shoulder reconstruction all before he turned 21, Croker doesn't want to land back in the rehab squad.
He has had his eyes opened by working alongside Cherry-Evans and now wants even more to place his stake in the ground in the NRL.
"We'd never crossed paths – nothing like that. I had always watched him growing up," Croker said.
"But then going through the video they've shown me, I didn't realise how good a year he had last year. Just sitting back and watching that puts a bit of pressure on us young guys to play the role the Greeny played.
"DCE is very articulate. He tells you what he wants and he knows how to get that. It makes our job easier.
"He's also a very good leader. To be able to learn from him, see what he does, will only be good for me."
Extracting himself from the Croker surname hype may also help. Lachlan is a nephew of Jason Croker – a 318-game legend with the Raiders, a former Test and NSW Origin player.
"He was obviously massive in Canberra, massive in the NRL. I still get asked about him up here. Then again he's my uncle. I can't get away from it. It is my last name. And he's been nothing but good for me.
"So in one way it's good to get away from it but it never hindered me back home. He's a real good fella and has been a great support for me."
They actually played together in the 2016 Auckland Nines.
"It was an eye-opener. 'Surreal' gets thrown around a lot but that was surreal to play with him. I can't put it into words. It was very special and something I'll hold with me for a long, long time."