When I was about 10 years old and making my First Communion as a good Catholic lad, I wore my footy gear underneath my clothes for that service.

As soon as we were finished at the church Dad and I bolted down to our local junior footy fields in Goulburn.

I made it in time for the second half of my game. That was how much I loved rugby league then.

I probably love it even more now.

That’s why I will find it really hard when the day comes when I eventually hang up my boots.

Hopefully that is a long time down the track and I am sure I will be one of those blokes who plays bush footy for years, just to stay involved.  

Jarrod Croker exclusive insight nrl

I have been playing first grade for the Raiders for 10 years.

In some people’s eyes that would put me in the ‘veteran’ class. At 27! I certainly don’t feel like a veteran.

I am still learning and my passion for the game has never been as strong.

I was just 18 when I made my first grade debut. It was a steep learning curve back then, but I believe the arrival of (coach) Ricky Stuart (2014) and my appointment as captain (also in 2014) have been the two biggest influences on my playing career.

I believe I am now playing my best football.

Ricky helped me improve areas of my game, especially my defence. He has helped me a lot, to know what I need to work on.

With captaincy came maturity. Being named as captain of the Raiders was one of the really special moments of my life – right up there with my wedding ring.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The captaincy has helped me grow as a person and a player.

I know I have to be consistent, to lead by example. I can’t have a quiet season, or even a quiet couple of games. With captaincy also comes the public scrutiny.

When the team is losing then ‘of course’ it has to be the coach, halfback or captain who is at fault. You lose a game by a field goal and suddenly you are not a good enough leader.

But part of that maturity and growth is knowing who to listen to and I have a select few whose advice and opinions I value.

They are the people I listen to when it comes to things like State Of Origin. I still have a burning passion to play Origin, and at 27, I believe I still have time on my side.

The fact that so far I have not been selected isn’t as source of frustration for me.

I realise what a privilege it is to be part of Origin and I hope one day I will get my chance. All I can do is to keep working on my game and doing my best for the Raiders.

Jarrod Croker exclusive insight

As far as the Raiders go, I believe we are in for a really strong second half of the season. Effort has never been an issue with us.

Take it from me, the boys are always ripping in.

However, I have no doubt we can play smarter and also need to cut out the brief lapses in concentration. I can point to five games this year when just brief moments of poor concentration have cost us dearly.

You turn around just two or three of those results and we are well in the eight.

I have seen the improvement in recent games, especially in our defence close to the tryline. We are a big side. When we run hard and control the ball we are really hard to handle.

On our day we can beat any side in this competition. We just have to make sure we have more good days.

Away from football, I have a genuine interest in harness racing.

At the moment I own about 10 pacers that are trained by a really good mate of mine, Brad Hewitt, who is based in Goulburn.

It all started about 10 years ago. One of my best mates, Josh, is friends with ‘Hewie’, so we bought one with him … and the ride started.

Now, many of my family, mates and Raiders teammates are involved.

I have even convinced ‘Sticky’ (Ricky Stuart) to ‘buy in’. It is a great outlet and gets my head out of footy for a while, if I need to.

When I am at the races I am just one of the boys with my mates and that keeps me down to earth. I also enjoy going down to the stables and being with the horses. It is very relaxing.

In fact harness racing has grown to be more than an interest. Obviously rugby league is my focus now, and for a long time to come.

But eventually I can see myself getting more involved with the horses. Hewie and I have been groomsmen at each other’s wedding. We are real good mates.

So, in the future I can certainly see he and I working together.

If that happened it would be great. It would be a case of doing what I love for work.

I have been lucky enough to have done that so far in my life, so to continue would be ideal.