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Croker crowned most under-rated player of modern era

Every year there's always players who shine for their club but don't get the recognition from the wider public or the representative selectors.

And when NRL.com put it to the fans, no player during the past three decades has had a more under-rated career than Canberra captain Jarrod Croker.

A consistent performer who has often seen the spotlight fall on his teammates, he has never been given due recognition by representative selectors in the State of Origin or international arena.

After putting out a 10-man shortlist, the race for the title came down to Croker and Roosters stalwart Mitch Aubusson, who is coincidentally playing his 300th NRL game this week.

Croker was a clear winner after more than 80,000 votes via this article and polls on the official NRL Instagram and Facebook accounts.

NRL.com recently launched the search for the Simply The Best players from 1990 to now to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tina Turner promotional campaign, which was again featured in this year's advertisement for the Telstra Premiership, and is calling on the fans to have their say on a range of topics on the modern era.

Such was the strength of the options, there was no room in the initial 10-man shortlist for the likes of Mitch Healey, John Skandalis, Josh Jackson, Daniel Gartner, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Isaah Yeo, John Morris, John Sutton and Nathan Merritt.

Most under-rated player of the past 30 years

(in alphabetical order)

Mitch Aubusson

As he closes in on his 300th NRL game and his 33rd birthday, this resilient Rooster remains one of the most reliable utility players in the game.

Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson.
Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Equally adept at centre and back row, Aubusson has tasted premiership glory on three occasions with the Roosters - the same number of rep jerseys he has won with two for NSW Country and one for the NRL All Stars.

Possibly a victim of his own versatility, Aubusson has been desperately unlucky never to pull on the blue of NSW at Origin level.

Steven Bell

Rock-solid in the centres for Melbourne and Manly, Bell bagged 94 tries in 172 club games, including a four-pointer in the 2008 grand final - his NRL swan song before joining Catalans.

Bell rarely made a mistake in defence, a trait which helped win him five Origin jumpers for Queensland in 2006-07, both winning series for the Maroons.

Surrounded by superstars in the Storm, Sea Eagles and Maroons backlines, Bell kept a low profile but he but never looked out of place.

2008 Grand Final revisited

Nathan Blacklock

Despite breaking try-scoring records left, right and centre, the winger from Tingha was consistently overlooked by representative selectors during a four-season stretch at the Dragons.

Dragons winger Nathan Blacklock celebrates his spectacular try in the first half of the 1999 grand final.
Dragons winger Nathan Blacklock celebrates his spectacular try in the first half of the 1999 grand final. ©NRL Photos

He racked up 20 or more tries each year from 1998-2001 but apart from two Tests in '01, he did not get a look-in for higher honours.

Jarrod Croker

It's hard to believe that one of Canberra's favourite sons has never earned Origin or Test selection when you consider his outrageous numbers - 268 games, 130 tries and 775 goals at a career strike rate of 80 per cent.

Now in his 12th season, Croker has been beaten to the Blues punch by the likes of Josh Morris, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Michael Jennings and Josh Dugan just to name a few.

Jarrod Croker showing off his kicking style in 2011.
Jarrod Croker showing off his kicking style in 2011.

While he may be under-rated by the men picking rep sides he will never be under-estimated by rivals or under-appreciated by the Raiders faithful.

Shaun Fensom

Every time this workhorse took the field for the Raiders or Cowboys, he left nothing in the tank. The sort of player others love to have by their side when the going gets tough.

Debuted for the Raiders in 2009 and wore his heart on his sleeve in 139 games before moving to the Cowboys when the salary cap squeeze hit in the capital.

Made it all the way to a grand final in 2017 with the Cobwoys but sadly broke his leg early in the match.

Fensom relives GF injury

Fensom's bravery is the stuff of legend, In 2010 he suffered a lacerated kidney but kept on playing and in 2014 he tried to go back onto the field after Raiders trainers told him he had ruptured his ACL.

Origin material for sure.

Dallas Johnson

Unflinching and uncompromising, this Maroons workhorse went about his business without fuss or fanfare.

Earned Test selection against the Kiwis in 2007 but despite playing five more seasons in the NRL and two more years of Origin the tireless back-rower never wore the green and gold again.

After the Maroons had won their seventh series in a row in 2012, Darren Lockyer encapsulated the under-rated Johnson's contribution perfectly when he told Rugby League Week that "the work Dallas does is probably not noticed as much by the public as it is by us".

Storm stalwart Dallas Johnson.
Storm stalwart Dallas Johnson. ©NRL Photos

Gary Larson

One of North Sydney's favourite sons, Larson powered his way through 233 games for the Bears between 1987-99 before a swan song season with Parramatta in 2000.

Larson's incredible durability saw him play 24 consecutive games for Queensland between 1991-98, but remarkably that translated to only six Test matches for his country, all in 1995 when Super League stars were unavailable.

Gary Larson played 24 consecutive games for the Maroons.
Gary Larson played 24 consecutive games for the Maroons. ©NRL Photos

Bill Peden

Mention under-rated players of any era and the name Bill Peden is one of the first to come up in conversation.

The unsung hero of Newcastle's premiership sides in 1997 and 2001, the hard-working lock did the hard yakka while the Johns boys, Buderus, Kennedy and Gidley took the spotlight. And he wouldn't have had it any other way.

Looking back at the 2001 Grand Final

Through 190 games and nine seasons, Peden was a favourite of the passionate Knights faithful but was consistently overlooked by rep selectors.

Ian Russell

A skilful back-rower, he was one of the key members of the Illawarra Steelers' sides of the early 1990s that almost made the grand final in 1992.

Cowboys forward Ian Russell takes on Wests in 1995.
Cowboys forward Ian Russell takes on Wests in 1995. ©NRL Photos

Not one to seek the limelight, his only representative honours came via a match for Country Origin but his place as one of the finest Indigenous forwards of his era is well and truly locked in. 

Alan Tongue

When it comes to never-say-die attitudes, no one epitomised that spirit better than Canberra's long-time utility forward.

Alan Tongue's farewell game in Canberra in 2011.
Alan Tongue's farewell game in Canberra in 2011. ©Renee McKay./NRL Photos.

Under-sized but always fighting above his weight division, Tongue registered 220 matches for the Green Machine during his 12-year career but was only selected in rep footy once, for Country Origin.