Johns Puts Jarrod Croker Centre Stage

By Staff Writer    |    Rugby League, State Of Origin   |   Jun 23, 2011 03:10 AM

New South Wales great Andrew Johns has anointed Canberra Raiders youngster Jarrod Croker as the man to answer the Blues centre crisis.

The comment comes in the wake of injuries to game one centre Michael Jennings and his replacement in game two Will Hopoate.

Croker said that while he was chuffed to be thought of as an origin player, his focus remains squarely with the struggling Canberra Raiders.

“That’s an amazing compliment and even to be thought of by someone of the calibre of Joey Johns, that’s an unreal feeling, but I’m just thinking about getting some wins up for the Raiders,” Croker said.

“When you start winning games, that’s when you start getting into rep teams.”

However there are some that are suggesting that both Croker (93 kg) and Jennings (94 kg) are too small to handle the rigours of marking Justin Hodges at origin level.

“Jennings was one of the best players in the NSW team in game one,” Croker said.

“I don’t think size is a problem. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

One factor that will go in Croker’s favour is the fact that he is a specialist left-sided player. Prior to the series NSW coach Ricky Stuart said that he preferred to play a specialist left sided centre, hence why Australian representative Jamaal Idris was overlooked.

Croker had a stellar 2010 season, however he has struggled this year in Raiders team that has lacked consistency.

Croker comes into origin reckoning on the back of a severe centre shortage for NSW. Along with Jennings and Hopoate, Ricky Stuart is also unable to pick Matt Cooper and Jamie Lyon, both of whom have retired from representative football, as well as Chris Lawrence, Mitch Aubusson and Blake Ayshford. Josh Morris has also been out of form at the Bulldogs.

However after the raft of positional changes that Stuart made prior to round two, it is looking likely that he will go for a non-specialist centre.

Jarryd Hayne has been mentioned as a possible replacement in the centres which would open a wing spot, possibly for Brett Morris who should make his return from a shoulder injury this weekend. Stuart also has the option of moving either Beau Scott or Ben Creagh from the second row to centre. Both men have played there at club level and they would provide the Blues backline with some starch in defence.