Fourteen years ago former Canberra Raiders coach David Furner knew he was unveiling a special player in Jarrod Croker.
It’s an easy thing to say, four days out from the veteran centre’s long-awaited milestone match, but for Furner, it’s Croker’s character which has long separated the proud one-club player from most.
Handing the then-19year-old his debut in 2009, former Raider Furner knew Croker didn’t boast the experience of other outside backs, but said it was the character shown from an early age which he believes 'has carried him to 300 NRL games'.
“I picked him against some experienced players because I thought that he was the type of player that would bring success to the Raiders so that’s why I debuted him,” the Wests Tigers assistant coach told NRL.com.
“His debut game was against the Roosters but it’s his second game that sticks in my memory.
“We lost 18-16 to Parramatta and Jarrod had a fairly good game but he might have let in a try. But what I remember was how much it hurt for him to lose.
“You need that mentality and character to play 300 games and I think that’s what’s carried him all the way.”
A try for a fan favourite
Already the club's all-time leading try and points-scorer and now set to join Jason Croker as just the second Raider in the 300 Club, Croker has long been one of the competition’s most lethal centres.
And while representative honours eluded the Goulburn product, Furner believes Croker's discipline and character have been pivotal to him becoming the 48th player to reach 300 games.
“Playing 300 games for one club, I know it’s an easy thing to throw around but he will be a legend at the club,” Furner said.
“What stands out for me is he is a tremendous goalkicker but you don’t just become a tremendous goalkicker.
“The work he put in to become that, when you talk about giving younger generations an example that’s the perfect one for me.
“Because of the discipline and routine you have to go through everyday to be a kicker, that’s Jarrod."
Having only ever donned a Goulburn Stockmen or Canberra Raider jersey at club level since he first picked up a Steeden, Croker's loyalty to the Green Machine will be celebrated throughout all of the nation’s capital on Friday.
Croker gets over early
Flying from his side’s clash with the Titans on Thursday night to GIO Stadium on Friday to watch Croker take the NRL field for the 300th time, Furner said the Canberra centre holds a special place in his coaching career and the Round 15 match could not be missed.
“There’s a saying they’ve got there ‘bleed green’ and that’s just exactly what Jarrod does,” he said.
You have the club that wants success and the player that wants success so it’s hard sometimes to make contract decisions but for Jarrod all he ever wanted to do was be a Canberra Raider.David Furner
“On and off the field, he is just a great person with very good values. I’ve still got a really good relationship with Jarrod and it’s a special bond.
"It's memorable as a coach to debut a player but Jarrod will go down as a very special player and a very special person to me."
Reflecting on his past 299 NRL games standing in front of his wife, kids and teammates on Monday, Croker revealed his second match at Parramatta Stadium was also one that sticks in the memory.
"I had a good chat with Dave before the Tigers game last week and he still remembers that game where I scored my first try at Parramatta, we had a good chat about it," Croker told the media.
"He just remembered that moment when I was upset about losing and how much I hated losing and how much I wanted to play for that jersey there and then.
"For him to remember that day as well and obviously I remember it. You ask about those early moments and that just about sums it up.
"Every kid that makes their debut will say the same thing, that they’re just happy to be playing the game and I was no different.
"One thing I do remember from then is I never wanted to play for another team and I never wanted to wear another jersey than the number three for Canberra, that was all I wanted to do."
Croker won't get his 300th next week
With the ACT lit up in lime green this week and the club anticipating a sell-out at GIO Stadium, a humble Croker said he just hopes to be a role model for the next Canberra kid dreaming of an NRL debut.
"There isn't any other bloke in this room who doesn't want to do the same thing, we've got so many good role models at this club and the area," he said.
"Canberra's a big country town and we've got a bunch of boys here who just want to do what's best for Canberra, that want to get out there and help the kids as much as they can.
"The green jersey is (about being) a role model for the community, and if one player can come in and be the next Josh Papali'i or Jack Wighton then that would be great as well."
Match: Raiders v Warriors
Round 15 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra