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'Scary' but good to be back for Croker after third knee operation

It is not one, but three, knee reconstructions Manly half Lachlan Croker has had to overcome to get back to playing rugby league.

He's had two on the left knee and one on the right. The memories are vivid – in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – because those seasons were a write-off.

In between though, the 22-year-old played under 18s, under 20s for NSW and was a member of the Junior Kangaroos as a halfback.

But it's his first-grade career that Croker really wants to get going.

Now through injury misfortune to Sea Eagles skipper Daly Cherry-Evans, he is likely to be the dominant force in the halves.

After a year sidelined with his third reconstruction - after tearing his ACL in round eight of 2018 - Croker was back at Lottoland on Sunday, helping guide Manly to a 24-20 win over the Raiders.

He only had a couple of days to prepare coming in for Kane Elgey at five-eighth.

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Raiders

"It was just how it was. I remember just looking at the team thinking 'I don't know how I'm going to get back', they were playing that well," Croker said.

"And looking at how [coach] Des [Hasler] talks and the game plan he puts in, I remember just thinking I can't see these guys losing."

And they didn't. And it was particularly satisfying for Croker. He was back playing in the Telstra Premiership, and back against his old club where his uncle Jason Croker is a Green Machine legend and his second cousin Jarrod Croker is the captain.

"I’m just so happy to be running around and back doing what I love. It was a very happy day.”

The joy helped make up for all the physical pain and mental torment of a knee reconstruction – for a third time.

"That was really hard. Obviously doing my knee nearly a year ago now, it was a scary place," Croker said.

"I was just really lucky I had good people around me. My partner put up with me every night I went home and I was miserable.

"Mum and Dad and my brothers, I was really fortunate to have that support around me. And guys in the rehab squad, I couldn't have done it without him. And out there [Sunday] was just an expression of all that.

"That's why I got so emotional, because I felt like it wasn't just me, it was something I was really proud of, the guys I had around me, my family and the staff."

He can still remember hobbling off Lottoland against Newcastle a year ago.

"It was scary. I remember walking off the field thinking 'Where do you go from here?'. It was a tough 12 months. I'm feeling good now – onwards and upwards."