Standing in front of his wife, kids and teammates, some legendary Canberra Raiders figures and a bustling media pack, Jarrod Croker admits his 300th NRL game finally feels real.
It looked a near-impossibility at times when he managed just 13 games in two years due to a slew of injuries, but Croker will become just the second Raider to join the 300 club when they host the NZ Warriors on Friday.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Raiders star Jarrod Croker’s big moments.
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The club’s all-time leading try and points-scorer could well sell out GIO Stadium, a testament to the impact he’s had on the Canberra community since debuting back in 2009.
CEO Don Furner estimated hundreds of children would have started playing rugby league to wear Croker’s trademark headgear and recreate his try-scoring heroics – but realistically it’s probably more like thousands.
“There isn’t any other bloke in this room who doesn’t want to do the same thing, we’ve got so many good role models at this club and the area,” Croker said on Monday.
“Canberra’s a big country town and we’ve got a bunch of boys here who just want to do what’s best for Canberra, that want to get out there and help the kids as much as they can.
“The green jersey is (about being) a role model for the community, and if one player can come in and be the next Josh Papali’i or Jack Wighton then that would be great as well.”
He joins Jason Croker in the Raiders’ 300 club and the speed with which Jarrod pointed out the two weren’t related suggests it’s an error he’s dealt with more than a couple of times.
“Everyone’s thinks he’s my dad – he’s a mate of mine,” Croker said.
“You think of legends of the club and ‘Toots’ (Jason) is one of the first ones that comes to mind.”
Croker admitted he’d been forced to reckon with the prospect of never reaching the milestone.
After off-season knee surgery heading into 2022, Croker toiled away in NSW Cup before hurting his shoulder in his sole NRL appearance, sustaining that injury in a typical desperation try-saving tackle.
“There’s no good going back (to NSW Cup) and kicking stones and I’ve tried to help out the younger guys there and let them know what the jersey is about,” he said.
“There were definitely some tough moments and a few moments where I didn’t think I’d probably get to this, but as soon as I got back on to Suncorp Stadium (versus Brisbane in Round 6), there was nothing else I wanted more.”
Coach Ricky Stuart said his legacy would never be forgotten around the club.
“Some of the hardships you had to go through to get here over the last two or three years just typifies your hardness, your relentlessness, your uncompromising work,” he said.
“I love how you’re a one-club player. I love … how loyal you are and the love you have for this jumper, this club.”
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