Croker to play 300th NRL match at home – Stuart

Jasper Bruce |

Ricky Stuart insists he is not disrespecting the Wests Tigers by resting Jarrod Croker next week so the Canberra captain can play his 300th NRL game in front of the Raiders’ home crowd.

The Raiders’ 33-26 defeat of South Sydney on Saturday night marked Croker’s 299th first-grade game and the veteran centre had been set to become the 48th player to reach 300 games when the Raiders meet the Tigers next Friday.

Instead, Stuart will leave Croker out of the clash at Campbelltown Stadium, and recall him the following week when the Raiders host the Warriors at GIO Stadium in Canberra.

“It’s not Jarrod’s call, he’s happy to do whatever is best for the team,” Stuart said.

“(But) I believe Jarrod deserves it and I believe all our fans, who are so loyal to us, they deserve to be at GIO and see him play live (in his 300th game).”

Croker, 32, has been a member of the Raiders’ best 17 since round six, putting an unhappy run of injuries behind him to close in on his milestone match.

Stuart had already been poised to reshuffle his backline after fullback Seb Kris went down against the Rabbitohs and will now field a team that is even further understrength. 

But the coach said omitting Croker does not mean they would be underestimating the Tigers, who have won three of their last four games and thrashed North Queensland 66-18 in their last outing

“It’s definitely not disrespectful to the Tigers,” Stuart said, “especially after their last performance.

“I know how well they’ve been going over the last month. 

“We’re certainly not taking our foot off the pedal. But I’m putting respect before our game next week in regard to this bloke (Croker).”

Croker had career-saving stem-cell surgery on his knee in 2021 and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on his return last season, so has previously been reluctant to pin his hopes on making it to the milestone match.

But with the feat finally upon him, Croker choked up when asked about the significance of becoming only the second man to play 300 games for the Raiders.

“Everyone knows what this jersey and this club means to me. I’ve spent more than half my life here,” he said.

“I wear this jersey with so much pride.

“I appreciate the fact that I’m able to do it at home in a couple of weeks’ time.

“Even talking about it now, I think you understand how much it means to me, and not only me, my family, and the boys and the club.”