Jason Croker

I met Jason Croker in Perpignan shortly before he made his Catalans Dragons debut in 2007. He eventually wound down a stellar 19-season career at the end of 2009.

ONLY Andrew Ettingshausen’s 328-game, 18-year career Cronulla Sharks career yielded more first-grade Australian appearances for a single club than Jason Croker’s. Catalans Dragons’ new second rower ended his 16-year Canberra Raiders career ten behind on 318 having joined Ettingshausen, Manly’s Cliff Lyons (309) and Sydney Roosters’ Luke Ricketson (301) in the 300 club in 2006.

Croker is also the Raiders’ all-time leading tryscorer with 120, an excellent tally for any forward, including a haul of four in one game against Cronulla in 1993 and a Grand Final four-pointer the following year as the Raiders beat Canterbury 36-12.

The retirements of Brad Davis, Marcus Bai and Paul Anderson – assuming St Helens do not field Tommy Hodgkinson again – leave Croker, 34 in March, as the oldest player in Super League. He replaces Parramatta bound Ian Hindmarsh in the Dragons’ back row and, given the injury to Djamel Fakir, his presence in Perpignan looks even more important.

Croker arrives in the south of France after an Australian career that saw him win the 1994 Grand Final as well as him representing New South Wales five times and Australia in the last World Cup, having been unlucky to miss out on Kangaroo selection on at least one occasion.

“I made my debut there in 1991, after arriving at the club two years earlier as a 15-year-old, and I was there for 16 years. I missed the Grand Final that year through injury when we lost to Penrith but played in 1994 when we beat Canterbury in Mal Meninga’s last club game. But all good things come to an end.

“Things are going really well so far in France. I needed to get out of my comfort zone and this is certainly the way to do it. I had the option of another year at Canberra but I didn’t take that up. My manager, David Riolo, was over here and put the word around that I wanted to play in Super League. I signed with the Dragons and came out here in November before going back to Australia for Christmas. My wife and two kids came back with me, with us all arriving on New Year’s Day. Then there’s the weather. It’s been sensational and totally unexpected for this time of the year apparently. Even before Christmas it was 20 odd degrees. It’s not good for the snow bunnies! Canberra is windy and cold in the winter. There are some beautiful areas around here. We’ve seen a few places already and done some shopping

Croker’s choice of club ensures he will be one of the few Australian imports not complaining about England’s cold weather although he is now confronted by a new problem: the language barrier.

“All the new guys have regular French lessons but I’m struggling to be honest! In terms of the team, it’s not too much of a problem. We can understand them and what they want and vice-versa. The only problems arise when people talk too quickly.”

One suspects that Croker might settle in a lot quicker on the field rather than off it.

“It’s not just the language, there’s also having to learn about driving on the right! When I was back home for Christmas, I went around a roundabout the wrong way. My wife couldn’t believe it! For some reason, I seem to drive better over here although when I got back to France, I forgot to put my foot on the clutch and went straight into a wall!”

For most of the ‘nineties, Croker was labelled a utility player, sometimes appearing at standoff. As he got older, he found his home in the back row and envisages spending his Catalans career there too.

“I’ll be in the back row somewhere, playing in the middle of the field, with plenty of chances to get my hands on the ball which is good. I can’t wait to get going and to play some good footy. I’m excited about playing with Stacey Jones, that’s for sure. Combinations are coming together on the training ground but that’s also what trial games are for.

“We want to win as many games as we can and I’m focusing on making some play-offs over here. There are a lot of raw players here but there’s some real talent which is good. I didn’t know too much about the French game but I like big Dave Ferriol and Djamel Fakir is impressive too, it’s just a shame that he’s injured at the moment. Gregory Mounis, at loose forward, is a good young player with a big future in front of him and, at hooker, we’ve got David Berthezene and Lionel Teixido, competing with Aaron Gorrell so there’s plenty of ability there too. They may have finished bottom last season but they were without Stacey for a long time and at the end of the season all the other clubs are playing out of their skin, trying to avoid relegation.

“Last year the team did pretty well in most games but fell away at the end of some. Maybe that was down to a lack of fitness but we’ve trained exceptionally hard in this pre-season and hopefully we’ll win these tight games instead of lose them. It’s a good comp over here despite what other people back home may say and I certainly won’t be taking it lightly. At Canberra, both Matty Elliott and the trainer Carl Jennings used to talk the Super League up a lot, after their experiences at Bradford.

Elliott provides a link between Croker and his new coach Mick Potter, having been Canberra’s boss from 2001 and having had Potter on Bradford Bulls’ coaching staff during his successful four year stint at Odsal.

“I didn’t know a lot about Mick Potter. We met up before Christmas for a coffee in Wollongong and he’s been pretty good as I’ve got to know him and work under him. He coached under Matthew Elliott at Bradford and Matty coached me at Canberra.”

Elliott recently labelled Croker as one of the three best Raiders players last season easing the usual fears of a mid-thirties player coming to the Super League for a pension and a holiday.

“I’ve got nothing but admiration for Jason Croker,” Elliott told ‘Rugby League World’. “You’d think that a player that had played over 300 games for his club would rest on his laurels but he’s an outstanding trainer and he’s adapted his game as he’d matured to suit his physical capabilities. He’s not as quick as he used to be but he’s a great reader of the game and he’ll be a huge asset to the Catalans club, on and off the field, because of his training ethic and his understanding of the game.”

 

Most appearances in first grade (as of 2007):
Terry Lamb Wests, Canterbury 1980-1996 349
Brad Fittler Penrith, Sydney Roosters 1989-2004 336
Cliff Lyons Norths, Manly 1985-1999 332
Andrew Ettinghausen, Cronulla 1983-2000 328
Geoff Gerard, Parramatta, Manly, Penrith 1974-1989 325
Jason Croker, Canberra 1991-2006 318
Paul Langmack, Canterbury, Wests, Easts 1983-1999 315
Steve Menzies Manly, Northern Eagles 1993-2006 308
Luke Ricketson, Sydney Roosters 1991-2005 301

Most appearances for a single club:
Andrew Ettinghausen, Cronulla 1983-2000 328
Jason Croker, Canberra 1991-2006 318
Cliff Lyons, Manly 1986-1999 309
Luke Ricketson, Sydney Roosters 1991-2005 301

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