Lachlan Croker is determined to step up his running game this season after gaining plenty of confidence from his defensive efforts in 2021.
The hard-working Sea Eagles hooker was the only Manly player to finish inside the NRL's top 10 for most tackles in a season last year.
Croker finished fourth with 986 tackles for an average of 37.9 tackles per game from his 26 games, putting to bed any underlying defensive fears the former half had.
“Defence was always one of those things I was most concerned about. Going into that Sydney Roosters game at the start of last year, that was my main worry, whether I would be able to handle it,’’ Croker said.
Last year was the first season I felt really comfortable knowing what my role was within the team
“It really helped my performance and the way that I played. I just had to be the guy in the middle that made my tackles and try and learn up as much as possible.
“I was clear on what I had to do and how to go about things. If there were times when things weren’t working or I was doing something wrong, there was always someone there to pull me up straight away.
“It was a really good year and I was really proud to be a part of it.”
Croker acknowledged the role former Manly hookers and current Assistant Coaches, Chad Randall and Michael Monaghan, had played in his development throughout the year.
“I’ve been really grateful for the time they have put into me and just the recognition and respect they have given me to be able to learn one of the most important positions on the field,’’ Croker added.
“They talked to me about how I’m going, what things to fix, and to keep working on in my game. It's really humbling to be in that position.
“This year for me, it’s about moving more to the other side of the ball and seeing if I can do more in attack.
“I just want to try and evolve, especially with the way the game is going, and the way hookers are playing now. It’s something I spend a lot of time on, watching others and learning with our coaching staff about what the next steps are for me.”
Lachlan Crokeron 2021 season
Croker said he experienced a ‘bitter sweet’ moment in the week leading up to the Qualifying Final against Melbourne Storm when a lower back injury ruled him out.
The injury ended his run of 44 consecutive games for Manly, a cruel blow to the team and for a 25-year-old who returned from three previous knee reconstructions and hamstring issues.
“It was terribly upsetting. Being up there in Queensland without my partner or my family was hard,’’ Croker admitted.
“I was fortunate to have the boys to talk to about it. I just tried to focus on not making it more of a big deal than it really was as they had a game to focus on.
"But you do sit back and think about the years before that. How playing finals footy is all that you want to do. It was a weird one, it was really bitter sweet.
“Watching the game was the worst thing that happened to me all year. The 80 minutes we put in against Melbourne was not where we needed to be and not what we wanted to toss out.
“Getting the win against the Roosters the way we did the week after made everything better.
“It was the biggest game of my career and probably one of my proudest moments, just being able to finish that match and to walk off as a winner in a semi-final.”