Training for season 2020 is hitting hard for the nib Newcastle Knights, especially some of the younger players, in particular Mat Croker who finds himself in the middle of his first full first-grade pre-season.
Although the training has been punishing, experienced forwards such as David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and Daniel Saifiti have been guiding him through to help ready the promising young representative forward for his hopeful debut.
Admittedly the 20-year-old is still below where he needs to be in a physical sense, but technically, he’s learning everything he can off teammate mentors.
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“It’s easily the hardest training I’ve ever done,” Croker said.
“Physically, I’ve got to meet a few more standards mixing it with the bigger boys…being a younger bloke in the middle that’s stuff that takes time.
“Blokes like Klem and D-Saf - they’re the two starting front rowers for NSW, so I’m lucky enough to be mixing it with the best.
“They’re always helping me out with little techniques.
“I’m lucky to have those blokes to pull me up if I’m just not there yet.”
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Having been in the Knights system since he was 15, Croker has represented NSW both in the U/16s and U/20s Origin arena, and also won both the SG Ball and Jersey Flegg Knights Player of the Year awards, however he has still yet to debut in the NRL.
While that’s his main goal for 2020, the Nabiac-native knows that only consistent hard work will get him there.
“I don’t really like to look too far into the future, but obviously I do want to make my debut this year…I’m working real hard at it at the moment,” he said.
“Playing good each week, stuff like debuts just come, I just got to tear in every week and do my best on the paddock and the rewards like that will come.
“I’ve come up through the system so it’s real good that the club’s put a bit of trust in me.”
Croker isn’t the only promising young player making his way up through the ranks as he trains alongside two mates both on Development Contracts - Tex Hoy and Luke Huth.
Having played together for more than five years in various sides, including last year’s U/20s State of Origin team, the young middle-man admits the adjustment to first-grade training has been less challenging progressing beside them.
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“Playing with them and coming up through the ranks is made easier because you know how they play,” he said.
“I’ve been playing with them since I was 14/15 and even further back when we were about 12 playing in school games.
“The club has put a lot of faith in us and got us all on development contracts. Hopefully we can repay the favour on the field.”