You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Raiders centre Jarrod Croker.

Raiders co-captain Jarrod Croker says there is not a single position that isn't up for grabs at the club in 2021.

After a challenging 2020 season in which Canberra fell a game short of a return to the grand final, the depth at the club has been boosted by the performances of several younger players in an impressive second half of the year.

Croker even includes his own spot as one that will have to be won back.

The likes of Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields are doing the hard yards at training to stake their claim for Croker's centre position in the opening rounds of 2021 while the 30-year-old continues his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery.

"I only got out of the sling last week," Croker told NRL.com.

"I haven't done a great deal. Just getting into the rehab side of things and getting a bit of cardio done. Most of the boys aren't back in yet anyway.

"At the moment I'm just trying to tick by, do a bit of cardio and rehab, get the shoulder moving. Do that before Christmas then in the new year get back into it."

The Raiders' 2020 season in review

Because of his shoulder rehab, Croker is yet to meet new recruits Caleb Aekins and Albert Hopoate but those two, along with Timoko, Smith-Shields and Adam Cook, and the breakout performances of Semi Valemei after Bailey Simonsson's 2020 injury, will ensure everyone in the back five has someone breathing down their neck.

"I think that's one positive we can take out of last year is the depth in the squad," Croker said.

"It was a tough season for everyone, everyone had to travel and everyone had injuries. The game was quite quick so everyone had their challenges but I think the way we handled them was very pleasing and I'm very proud of the team."

In the forwards the competition is even more intense.

Tom Starling's brilliant second half of the season will make him very hard to leave out of the 17 even with Josh Hodgson back on deck as he and Siliva Havili expertly managed the England international's absence.

Inspirational former Titans captain Ryan James arrives to join a logjam of middle forwards that will likely mean only two out of James, Sia Soliola, Ryan Sutton, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh fit into a best 17 behind likely starting middles Josh Papalii, Dunamis Lui and Joe Tapine.

In the second row, despite John Bateman's departure, the impressive 2020 form of mid-season acquisition Corey Harawira-Naera and addition of young Englishman Harry Rushton and the form of the versatile Hudson Young rounds out a squad in which Rushton is the only player in the top 30 not to have played at NRL level.

Analysing the Raiders' 2021 draw

"I met Harry last week when I first went in there. He's fit in really well. Hopefully he's like the other Pommies we signed! He was in isolation for two weeks when he came over but he's going really well," Croker said.

"I haven't been in while the boys are training but they're all in there ripping in and getting a flogging."

Ricky Stuart's squad lost just three games all year – two regular season games against the Panthers and Roosters and the preliminary final against Melbourne – from the time Hodgson tore his ACL in round nine.

That was the fifth long-term injury suffered by a top 17 player in a three-week stretch, a toll that would have ruined the season of a lesser squad.

"We lost Hodgo and we lost Sia Soliola, Bailey Simonsson, Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler all within a couple of weeks of each other but it was great to see the emergence of the young fellas coming through," Croker said.

Raiders' top five tries of 2020

"Obviously Tommy Starling, it was great to see him get his chance and play really well throughout the whole season. The younger guys, Matty Timoko and Harley Smith Shields, even seeing Matty Frawley and Sammy Williams playing good footy at the end of the season when they got a game.

"That depth, then having Ryan and Caleb come in, you need depth to win competitions, you need people fighting for positions and I think we have that at the moment.

"You look at Siliva and Tommy Starling possibly fighting for an interchange position. Every position has depth in it.

"The halves with Frawls and Sammy Williams and now fullback with Caleb Aekins there, the outside backs with myself and Curtis, Jordan Rapana and Bailey Simonsson having guys like Matty and Harley chasing us.

"The forward pack is probably the hardest to pick.

"There's not a jersey that's not up for grabs, we've got a strong spine and a strong core. We've got a good group of guys at the moment with good depth and those boys nipping at everyone's heels, it's what we need."

Pressed on the calibre of players likely to miss out when everyone is fit, Croker laughed "I'm glad it's not my headache! Ricky will enjoy that."

The club has been consistently reliable in defence but Croker is not satisfied.

"There's always room for improvement, you always want to improve and be better," he said.

All of Nick Cotric's 2020 tries

"You want to be the best defensive side in the comp and we were pretty good defensively last season but just those little moments in games we want to be better.

"We had a couple of rule changes this year and a few more coming in next year. The speed of the game is quite fast. You have to be at your best for as long as possible.

"We have a really good defensive unit but we haven't won the competition. That's our main goal and something every team is working towards in the pre-season."