Retired NRL star turns attention to harness racing

Fresh into his retirement, Jarrod Croker loves spending time at the track.

The former National Rugby League (NRL) superstar and Canberra Raiders Club Captain Jarrod Croker ended his career at the end of the 2023 season at the ripe old age of 32 having spent his entire playing career in the nation’s capital.

Born and raised at nearby Goulburn, Croker has been a lifelong friend of highly respected trainer/driver Brad Hewitt, but growing up, his sole focus was the game he loved, rugby league.

Playing for the Goulburn Stockmen, Croker starred in his youth and represented New South Wales Schoolboys and Australian Schoolboys representative teams in 2007 while being selected for the New South Wales under-18s in 2008.

Croker was part of the Canberra team that won the inaugural National Youth Competition in 2008.

The following year, he made his NRL debut against the Sydney Roosters before going on to play 307 games for the Raiders, only Jason Croker (no relation) has played more with 318 appearances.

The list includes the likes of Josh Papalii, Laurie Daley, Simon Woolford, Jack Wighton, Steve Walters, Ruben Wiki, and Alan Tongue among others.

Other records that Croker collected during his playing days include Most tries for the Club (135), Most points in a single season (296 – 2016) and Most points for the Club (2374 – 136 tries and 915 goals).

In 2014, Croker was named the Mal Meninga Player of the Season for the Canberra Raiders.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart also heaped praise on the club legend via Fox League from Fox Sports.

“Jarrod Croker will go down as one of the legends of this club,” Stuart said.

“His achievements and his selflessness for the jersey are everything you want in a player, and he will retire from the game alongside some of the greats to wear the green jersey.”

“Jarrod is a local boy from Goulburn who played his entire career from junior representatives right through to 300 games in the NRL and he is the perfect example of what it is to be a Raider.”

“Jarrod Croker is and will always be a Canberra Raider.”

During his time as a professional athlete, Croker took a particular interest in the deeds of his great mate, Brad Hewitt, and started investing within the stable.

And before long, Our Triple Play was purchased from New Zealand as a four-start maiden two-year-old from the stables of Logan Hollis and Shane Robertson with overwhelming success.

Jarrod Croker (fourth from left) with connections of Triple Play.

The Shadow Play gelding claimed multiple features including the 2018 Group 3 4YO Championship at Albion Park while winning a total of 17 races and banking just shy of $300,000.

Our Triple Play was and remains a special horse.

As a result of his success, the Triple Play Syndicate was formed, and all horses raced by Croker now largely appear under this banner.

Given this success of Our Triple Play on the track, Croker reinvested on the advice of Hewitt when purchasing a yearling from the 2018 Bathurst Yearling Sales staged during the Gold Crown carnival.

With a striking resemblance to Our Triple Play, the Western Terror – My Sunday Girl youngster was dubbed ‘Ted’ around the stables before being race named Send It.

“As good as Our Triple Play was for everyone, little Ted has been even better because he provided the team with our maiden Group 1 success and our tally has now grown to four,” Croker said.

“He’s also allowed us to buy more horses including Captains Knock and, without doubt, he’s the best horse I’ve had anything to do with. We call him ‘Joey’ and he’s now recorded back-to-back Group 1 Breeders Challenge victories as a two-year-old and again as a three-year-old.

“I must admit, before Joey came along, the syndicate funds were looking a little sick and we thought we might have to dip in and reload but then he won the first of his Group 1s and we haven’t looked back since.”

Send It scored in the 2018 Group 1 $100,000 TAB Regional State Championship Final at Menangle, he’s now won 14 races and just under $300,000, eerily like Our Triple Play.

Meanwhile, Captains Knock was purchased by Hewitt from the 2021 Australian Pacing Gold Sydney Yearling Sale at a cost of $36,000 for the syndicate.

The Captaintreacherous – Scarlett Finn (by In The Pocket) colt has won 10 of his 19 starts to date, while banking more than $284,000.

Following his Group 1 victory in the 3YO Breeders Challenge Final at Menangle back in October, connections turned him out for a spell with a big four-year-old campaign planned.

Send It.

The Chariots of Fire, Rising Sun and Eureka are all under consideration.

“We’ll look at one, hopefully all three of those races next year with Joey, he’s an absolute little ripper, we all think he’s the greatest.

“The day he won the Breeders Challenge, we hired a mini-bust and the entire syndicate headed to Menangle. I had just retired so I was able to get trackside for a Group 1 race for the first time and it ranks as one the best days of my life.

“I had my wife (Brittney) and two kids (Rory and Tate), my best mates, my father and father-in-law [there], so to experience that thrill and excitement with them is something I’ll treasure forever. An unbelievably overwhelming experience; I wish I could bottle it forever.

“At the top of the straight he looked all over a winner. I picked my son (Rory) up and cheered with tears of joy rolling down my face.”

Other well-known players and identities that Croker has raced horses with include Adam Elliott, Ricky Stuart, Elliot Whitehead, Nick Cotric, Jack Wighton, Sam Williams, Zac Woolford, Matt Frawley, and superstar jockey Tommy Berry while his mates include Josh Stapleton, Cody Medway, plus Milly (Brad’s wife) and Blake Hewitt (Brad’s cousin).

Another standout victory for Croker came via the trotter Majestic Trio, his maiden foray into the trotters and the talented mare scored in the Group 1 $100,000 Queensland Trotters Cup at Albion Park back in July during the Constellations. He also won the Queensland Oaks Consolation with Shez The Reason (six wins from 13 starts, $68,000) on the same night, both trained and driven by Hewitt.

And then came the victory of Anna Love in the Group 3 $52,000 Forever Gold Mares feature at Albion Park in November with Shane Graham driving for Hewitt who was committed to Sydney runners.

“I love it. Racing is a rollercoaster; there’s plenty of highs and lows but that’s part of the adventure. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Brad steering me in the right direction and now that’s expanded to include Shane, they’re both very gifted horsemen,” Croker said.

“Now that I’m officially retired, I’m certainly planning to be at the track more often to cheer on the troops and Albion Park has been a happy hunting ground. I’ve got about 13 on the books, all harness except for one galloper.

“I’m busier than ever right now but I wouldn’t swap it for anything and definitely not for a pre-season training camp.”

Nice one, Skipper.

Majestic Trio.