On Sunday morning, Jarrod Croker woke up and spent his first Father’s Day as a dad with his wife Brittney and their three-month-old son Rory.
“It was very special,” Croker said. “It’s not something that you think of with everything else going on and then all of a sudden it was Father’s Day – the first one – it was pretty special.
“It was disappointing not to be able to go far but I spent the day with Brittney and Rory. I put the feet up and didn’t do much. It was awesome.
“It would have been nice to go and see my dad, and take Rory to see Brittney’s parents and my parents and all, that but that’s the way it is at the moment. I’m sure we’ll get plenty of opportunities in the future.”
With the loss against the Roosters the day before, becoming a father has helped provide perspective for Jarrod.
“I’m sure everyone with kids will say the same thing, it puts a lot of it in perspective,” Croker said. “It certainly changes your life for the better. It makes going home after a loss – it’s never fun losing – but going home and seeing the little fella at the moment, it’s a blessing.
“Whether it’s a good day or bad day, you can get home and see the family. It’s certainly a different feeling. It’s not something you ever think of until you have it. I’m very grateful, he’s such a good kid too – touch wood – so I’m enjoying that.”
Becoming parents for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic has provided unique challenges for both Brittney and Jarrod but also some positives.
“The only good thing to come from COVID is that if I’m not at training, I’m at home spending time with the family,” Croker said. “There’s no nights away so far, like sometimes for away games we travel for two or three nights at a time. That’s a blessing in disguise.”
Although fatherhood has been a new chapter in Jarrod’s life, he feels that the experience hasn’t changed him too much.
“I’m still pretty chilled out and hopefully that rubs off on Rory, he’s pretty chilled out. I don’t think it’s changed me too much as a person,” Croker said. “Obviously, the way you look at things and your priorities, it’s always family first – not that it wasn’t family first before - but when you have a kid you have a lot more responsibility.”
On the field, Croker has remained the same but the captain has seen his responsibilities increase with co-captain Josh Hodgson out for the season and veteran forward Sia Soliola injured for the last couple of months.
“Losing Hodgo and Sia in a week really put a bit more responsibility back on my shoulders,” Croker said. “I’ve been very lucky that boys that I’ve got around me like Elliott Whitehead, having Johnny Bateman back and guys like Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii playing out of their skin and training so well. They have stepped up as leaders and have helped me out.
“Dunamis Lui is another one who taken on more of a leadership role – he’s always been a leader but he’s really stepped up in Sia’s absence.
“I’ve been really lucky in that respect but I’ve certainly had to take on more of a leadership role and a bit more of the pressure. Obviously winning and losing is the end result, but we’ve got a good culture and leadership around the club both on and off the field.”
Since being handed the captaincy leading into the 2015 season as a 24 year old, Croker quickly understood the importance of having strong leadership around him to help the club improve as a collective.
“I’ve certainly changed as a person and back then I had to stand up in front of David Shillington, Dane Tilse and those sorts of blokes and be their leader,” Croker said. “It was certainly daunting but it was a challenge I took on.
“I’m not naïve and I’m not dumb. I knew I needed help and support around me. I feel like I had a lot of that and Stick [Ricky Stuart] was the main one.
“Sticky gave me the support I needed and then having Sia and then Hodgo around, they’ve been the guys that I’ve relied upon the whole time I guess.”
During the season, Croker has seen young Raiders such as Kai O’Donnell, Harley Smith-Shields, Matt Timoko and Semi Valemei all make their NRL debuts.
In the process of seeing them being handed their Raider numbers, Croker - who is Raider number 284 - realised that a unique situation could arise in the not too distant future.
“When I saw the Raider numbers going through the 60s, I thought ‘Geez, that’s getting close to the 80s,’” Croker said. “I’m sure over the next couple of years we’ll probably see that - especially the way the game is going and the kids coming through at this club.
“The pressure for spots, we’re going to have new players and young guys coming in so I’m not sure when that will be, but it’ll be a pretty crazy moment. I’m not sure anybody has done that at this club, or at least that I know of.”
As Croker prepares to line up against the Dragons with Semi Valemei on his outside, the captain has been impressed by the performances of each of the young Raiders.
“They’ve been great,” Croker said. “The boys who have put on the green jersey, we’ve had complete faith in them, and they’ve come out and done their job.
“That doesn’t just happen overnight. That’s a year or two years of training with the top squad and learning what it means to be an NRL player and being part of the Raiders.”
As the young players continue to grow and develop, Croker knows it is a crucial part in reaching the ultimate goal.
“It’s given us a lot of confidence and a lot of depth,” Croker said. “You need depth to win a competition and giving those guys that taste of NRL gives us extra depth.”