Devastating knee injuries have greatly impacted Croker over the past 12 months, however, a hopeful career-saving move to have stem cell surgery on the troublesome knee could save his career.
At the age of 31, Croker has made 291 NRL appearances and will remain in club record books for a lengthy period thanks to his point-scoring exploits.
Croker was once a picture of consistency and is in the discussion when it comes to the best players never to lace up a boot in the State of Origin arena.
He was limited to just 12 games in 2021 though, scoring a single try and struggling badly in defence. He is on contract with the Raiders until the end of 2023 with a player option for 2024 however, and despite a talented crop of young centres in the mix including Sebastian Kris and Matthew Timoko, Croker told The Sydney Morning Herald that no player thinks about medical retirement, and that he wants to make a full return.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a make-or-break pre-season, but we’ll definitely see how we go,” Croker told the publication.
“I’ve played busted the best part of 18 months now if you include the injured shoulder.
“The knee definitely needs to improve and you can no longer get away with not being 100 per cent out there, especially with the speed of the game, the new rules and the young athletes.
“No player thinks about medical retirement. And if I could predict the future, I’d be picking the Flemington quaddie tomorrow.
“But I haven’t run since round 22, and I can’t for another three or four weeks. I’ll get a better gauge in a fortnight when I can resume running on the AlterG machine [anti-gravity treadmill], but I won’t really know until I’m back running before Christmas. Until then, there’s no use stressing about it.”
The fact he managed 12 games in 2021 is a minor miracle given the problems with his knee, but whether there is a spot for him in 2022 remains to be seen.
For now though, it's a focus on recovery and rehabilitation of the knee for Croker as he makes a last ditch attempt to save his NRL career.