Casualty Ward: The NRL heavyweights rocked by injury

 

He's known as one of the NRL's genuine nice guys, unassuming and always easygoing.

But don't think for a minute that makes Jarrod Croker any less tough or competitive.

And after recently getting his arm out of a sling following a full reconstruction on a busted shoulder that Croker played almost the entire preliminary final with, now Canberra's humble captain has opened up about what's driving him to be ready for the 2021 season.

But forget all those tired old lines about "doing it for the boys" and that clichéd junk.

"As much as I love all the boys I hate seeing anyone wear my No.3 jersey," Croker said with his typical honesty.

"I still remember getting nervous when Aidan Sezer came to the club because he was such a good goalkicker and I was worried about him taking my goal-kicking duties.

"I'm good mates with 'Seze' now and we built a really good friendship, but I still remember that.

Jarrod Croker is recovering from a shoulder reconstruction. Picture: Brett Costello
Jarrod Croker is recovering from a shoulder reconstruction. Picture: Brett Costello

"Every player would say the same thing. Those are the sort of things that keep you going."

And with Curtis Scott also coming back from injury, the two will have young guns Matt Timoko, Harley Smith-Shields, Sebastian Kris and Albert Hopoate all pushing for selection.

"I sit there and look at this young fella and say, 'Gee, he is fast and strong', a lot faster and stronger than I am at 30," Croker said.

"I'd like to think I have a few different attributes but you don't want to sit back and think you are irreplaceable.

"I want to start the season because I hate missing footy, it's as simple as that.

"The physios have tried to tell me to aim for round three or four but, if you ask me, I want to play round one."

Croker suffered his injury in the opening minutes of the grand final qualifier against Melbourne when he ruptured the rotator cuff and tore the labrum, while surgery also repaired a fracture in his shoulder.

As is his way, Croker downplayed how bad it was.

"It's not ideal but I am sure blokes have played with worse pain than what I did," he said. "Trying to run with a dislocated knee cap was worse.

"It was just a weird one because I had never hurt my shoulder before and there was just little clicks and I didn't know if it was popping out or not.

"Just lifting the arm was the worst thing … it was gone.

"But in saying that I strapped it up and thought I'd be OK to get through it.

BELOW: SEE EVERY CLUB'S PRE-SEASON INJURY LIST

"I didn't get a scan for four or five days later and I didn't think I'd be getting a reconstruction.

"But if we won that game you wouldn't have stopped me playing in the grand final, put it that way."

Croker will go into the new year also closing in on becoming only the second Raider to play 300 games for the club.

Croker currently sits on 279 NRL games.

Jason Croker, the original ‘Toots’. Picture: AAP/Action Photographics/Mark Graham
Jason Croker, the original ‘Toots’. Picture: AAP/Action Photographics/Mark Graham


The only other former Raider in front of him is his second cousin, Jason Croker, the original "Toots", who finished with 318 games for Canberra.

"I always said if I could turn out to be half the player he was I'd be pretty happy," Jarrod said.

"Every kid just dreams of playing the one game.

"And so to be able to knock that (milestone) over next year would be pretty special.

"It is something I would be pretty proud of."

Croker only recently agreed to a new four-year contract extension that will take him through until at least the end of 2024.

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That means joining Cameron Smith in the 400 club is not beyond him.

"I'd like to, that would be nice," he added.

"I'd love to play for as long as I can. As long as my body lets me and as long as the club want me there.

"And as long as I am not letting anybody down by being out there."

NRL CASUALTY WARD: CLUB BY CLUB GUIDE

BRONCOS

IN THE WARD: Kotoni Staggs (knee), Tom Flegler (shoulder), Andrew McCullough (hamstring)

Star centre Staggs (ACL) is set to return in four months' time, with club medical staff expecting him to get back to running after Christmas. Prop Flegler has declared he will be fit for round one as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Hooker McCullough is back to full contact training and on track for a round one start.

 

BULLDOGS

IN THE WARD: Jayden Okunbor (knee), Joe Stimson (shoulder), Adam Elliott (shoulder), Christian Crichton (knee)

Canterbury have been dealt a pre-season blow with winger Crichton set to miss the 2021 campaign. Crichton was injured at training on Thursday, with fears he has ruptured his ACL. Winger Okunbor, who suffered an ACL injury in the final game of the season, is back at training but is limited to non-contact work. Forwards Stimson and Elliott are on track to return in the trials.

 

COWBOYS

IN THE WARD: Michael Morgan (calf)

Skipper Morgan, who is recovering from an infection in his shoulder, is back at pre-season training.

 

DRAGONS

IN THE WARD: Jack Bird (knee), Billy Brittain (shoulder), Jack de Belin (stood down)

Coach Anthony Griffin is happy with Bird but great care will be given to ensure no setbacks. Bird is on track for the trials and round one. Brittain (shoulder) is also back running and pushing for opening round selections. Jack de Belin (stood down) is still unavailable.

Dragons recruit Jack Bird. Picture: AAP/Darren England
Dragons recruit Jack Bird. Picture: AAP/Darren England


EELS

IN THE WARD: Blake Ferguson (knee) Maika Sivo (knee) Michael Jennings (suspended, indefinite)

Wingers Ferguson and Sivo will both be available for the trials. Fijian flyer Sivo is already back training while Ferguson returns after Christmas with the club's senior players.

 

KNIGHTS

IN THE WARD: Kalyn Ponga (shoulder), Blake Green (knee), Connor Watson (achilles), Jayden Brailey (knee)

Hooker Brailey is already well into pre-season training after missing almost all of 2020 with a busted ACL. Is now taking part in almost most contact drills and expects to be ready for round one. Same deal with utility Watson who is also back running freely. Expect a longer wait for both Ponga and Green, who are still rehabbing after a shoulder reconstruction and knee surgery respectively. Coach Adam O'Brien has said he doesn't expect either to be lengthy delays but there has been some talk the pair could be out until Round 5, or even longer for Green.

Kalyn Ponga had post-season shoulder surgery. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Kalyn Ponga had post-season shoulder surgery. Picture: Phil Hillyard


PANTHERS

IN THE WARD: Charlie Staines (hamstring)

Young winger Staines is back training and fully recovered.

 

RABBITOHS

IN THE WARD: Braidon Burns (knee), Adam Reynolds (groin), Latrell Mitchell (hamstring), Campbell Graham (groin), Taane Milne (knee)

Star fullback Mitchell is running and on schedule to start full training in the new year with round one the goal. Graham has had surgery and is also back running and on target to start the season, while Reynolds had minor surgery and is already back in full training. Burns is on modified training with an outside hope for round one. New recruit Taane Milne (ACL) had surgery held back because of COVID so won't play until mid-season.

 

RAIDERS

IN THE WARD: Jarrod Croker (shoulder), Ryan Sutton (knee), Corey Horsburgh (foot), Emre Guler (ankle), Curtis Scott (leg), Josh Hodgson (knee), Bailey Simonsson (shoulder)

Sutton would have been OK had Canberra made the grand final and is on track to start the season. Horsburgh is back running though not in full training but should also be right for round one. Guler is in a similar position and has started running. Scott is pretty much back in full training after having a plate taken out of his leg. Hodgson is an outside chance to start the season but there will be no rush given this is his second ACL knee injury. Simonsson is in full training and will be right for round one. Croker is just out of a sling and expected to miss a few rounds.

Raiders captain Jarrod Croker. Picture: Brett Costello
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker. Picture: Brett Costello


ROOSTERS

IN THE WARD: Siosiua Taukeiaho (knee), Victor Radley (knee), Sam Verrills (knee), Billy Smith (knee), Boyd Cordner (concussion)

It's still not clear when Cordner will return to training in 2021 other than that the Roosters are prepared to give their co-captain all the time he needs to get himself right. Young gun Smith is back training although not at full contact but should be right to start season, while Radley and Verrills recently completed an intensive rehab program camp with Smith under the watchful eye of physio Adam Bentley and are tracking well.

 

SEA EAGLES

IN THE WARD: Josh Aloiai (knee), Tom Trbojevic (shoulder), Jorge Taufua (Achilles), Kieran Foran (pec), Cade Cust (ankle), Josh Schuster (ankle), Moses Suli (foot), Manase Fainu (stood down/shoulder)

Trbojevic and Walker are both back training and are in full contact while Taufua will start running in January, with an April return targeted. Suli has also returned to running after foot surgery and is expected to rejoin the team in 2021. New recruit Foran is still in modified contact but, given the way his pec injury is healing, should also be in full training by January.

 

SHARKS

IN THE WARD: Blayke Brailey (ankle), Siosifa Talakai (shoulder), Shaun Johnson (Achilles), Royce Hunt (knee), Bronson Xerri (suspended, indefinite)

Moylan has struggled with soft tissue injuries the past two seasons, restricting him to just 19 games, but has fully recovered from his most recent hamstring issue and is back into full contact. Johnson is due back at training in early January and eyeing a return in Round 8-10. Brailey, Talakai and Hunt have all returned to pre-season training and are on rehab programs.

 

STORM

IN THE WARD: Max King (ankle), Ryley Jacks (shoulder)

King is recovering from off-season ankle surgery and is on track for round one selection. Jacks is also expected to be available.

 

TITANS

IN THE WARD: AJ Brimson (foot), David Fifita (ankle), Jai Whitbread (ankle), Ash Taylor (hip/wrist)

Maroons rep Brimson won't be back to full training until the new year but is on track for round one. Star recruit Fifita is also set to fully recover from a syndesmosis injury as he gets back to full skills training before Christmas. Star half Taylor had wrist and hip clean-outs after the season but should be ready for round one while forward Jai Whitbread is back in full training.

Gold Coast Titans recruit David Fifita. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Gold Coast Titans recruit David Fifita. Picture: Nigel Hallett


WARRIORS

IN THE WARD: Leeson Ah Mau (pectoral), Jackson Frei (knee), Bunty Afoa (knee)

New coach Nathan Brown will receive a considerable boost to his forward pack with Ah Mau, Frei and Afoa all to be available for round one next season.

 

WESTS TIGERS

IN THE WARD: Reece Hoffman (knee), Alex Seyfarth (knee), James Roberts (pectoral),

Kane Bradley (shoulder), Billy Walters (knee)

Utility Walters (ACL) has recovered well and commenced controlled running. Hoffman and Seyfarth are set to return to full training in the new year. Rookie outside back Bradley is also on the mend from shoulder surgery and will return to training in February. New signing James Roberts is expected to start training in the new year.

Originally published as Casualty Ward: The NRL heavyweights rocked by injury


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