Injured Canberra Raiders centre Jarrod Croker has opened up on the pain of missing this year's season as the Raiders prepare for a do-or-die clash against the Melbourne Storm.
Croker is stranded on 292 NRL games as it stands, all for the Green Machine over the last 14 seasons of first-grade, though injuries have brought the headgear-donning outside back unstuck in recent years.
Since leading the Raiders out for the 2019 Grand Final, Croker has featured in just 35 of a potential 75 games for Canberra, less than 47% availability, including just a singular game this season before a shoulder injury ended his campaign prematurely.
Turning 32 the day after their elimination final, the rise of Sebastian Kris and recently re-signed Matt Timoko leaves Croker in doubt of regaining a spot in the side for 2023, while being just eight games shy of his 300th match.
Trying his hardest to support his side, the centre spoke on the Fox League Podcast about the toll that being sidelined has had on him as well as his family.
“It is frustrating and emotional,” Croker said.
“I feel sorry for my wife, she has to put up with the most of it.
“I hate it. I don’t like putting up with it. I don’t think anyone does.
“Game day is the worst. Through the week you get by and the boys are training and you are just doing your rehab and having a laugh.
“There is no pressure in playing the game each weekend when you are injured long-term.
“But once you get to captain’s run and game day I don’t handle it very well.
“It is part of the game and I just have to count my blessings. I went my first 12 or 13 years without really having to do it much.
“Now over the last 18 months it has all hit me at once. But I still sit there and cheer like a diehard fan and wear my heart on my sleeve."
Croker appeared out of favour this season even before injury left its mark, the centre selected for six games in for the Mounties in NSW Cup before being called up for his sole first-grade appearance in Round 9.
While the former captain would love to take his place in the line-up, he's credited an in-form forward for ensuring Canberra didn't miss the finals for a second consecutive season.
“It has probably been a couple of years coming for Taps (Joseph Tapine).
“While he has been great for us a number of years now, it is just like he exploded out of the blocks this year.
“He has really taken ownership of his own game and his leadership and you can tell he really wants to be a leader around the club.
“He was rewarded last weekend when Elliott (Whitehead) and Jack (Wighton) were not playing.
“I think that extra bit of leadership has really urged him along to do as much as he can on and off the field for the club for them to play good footy."
Croker is under contract for 2023 as well as having an option in his favour for 2024, almost assuring that the local veteran will bring up his 300th game in lime green in the coming seasons.