It's a tough old game, Rugby League.
I have been a member of the Raiders for almost ten years. That's not exactly the longest tenure, but that's not nothing for me. Going to watch the Raiders has been a regular fixture in my life for a long time. Pulling on the jersey, driving to Bruce stadium, cheering when we win, and feeling agony, gnawing at me in the pit of my stomach, when we lose.
But the one constant for me has always been one loyal green soldier - Jarrod Croker. As generations of the Raiders have come, and gone, he has always been there. Kicking goals, scoring tries, and marshalling the troops.
As David Furner, Josh Dugan, and Blake Ferguson all headed for the exit, and the club slid into mediocrity, he was there. When the reinforcements like Hodgson, Whitehead, Rapana and Leilua showed up, to drive the Raiders into a new era, you could still find his headgear, out there, at left center.
When the club finally put it all together in 2019 and came within eight points of its first premiership in thirty years. On the ground, in tears, was Jarrod Croker.
When it all fell apart, the English imports departed, and Canberra's generation next began to take shape, the green number 3 was (almost) never in doubt. At least until Jarrod's body began to betray him.
In the course of his 307 games, much like the Raiders, Jarrod Croker's career has been largely unheralded, unrecognized, and disrespected. In many ways, Jarrod's treatment at the hands of the media is a microcosm of the way those in other capital cities see the capital, and the clubs that reside within. Unwanted, unneeded, and safely ignored.
But to the green faithful who march out to the stadium, like me and my Dad, we have known better - and we have known better for a long time. And there is no-one else we would have leading our team, week in, and week out.
Andrew Abdo said it quite aptly at the time of Jarrod's 300th game. He has inspired a generation of kids to pull on headgear, and kick goals just like the young kid from the Goulburn Stockmen. To score tries just like the fearsome strike center, and to muster the troops as a savvy veteran.
History will remember Jarrod as a favoured son of Canberra - and so will the green faithful. The most tries and points for his club, in the company of some of the best to ever wear the jersey. The NRL's third highest point scorer. A member of the NRL's 300 club. To say I'm proud to have been there for so many of these milestones is an understatement.
In the twilight years of his career, what Jarrod contributed to the side went beyond tackles, meters, and points. He was a force multiplier - a beacon of emerald energy. It wasn't just the fans that loved him, it was the players. His contributions were intangible, un-measurable, but on display for all to see.
As just one example in a long list of outstanding performances, was his effort against Kotoni Staggs against Brisbane in round 5 of this year. His first game back, against the impossible odds of the Broncos on their home turf. He led the way, gave his opponent a bath, and galvanized the troops - there was no panicking, no nerves, just green steel.
Sadly, time waits for no man. The player who seemed indestructible early on in his career eventually had his knee and his shoulder give out on him. The football gods do not care for what you deserve - and he so richly deserved to lift the trophy in 2019.
It probably won't fully hit me until the Raiders run out for 2024, and he won't be there anymore. The green number 3, left to another player to wear. And the man they call "toots", will be sitting on the sidelines, forever an immortal green warrior.
Thank you for all you have done for this club.
You will be missed.
Catch you next time,
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