Happy at hooker, Croker's new NRL deal

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Lachlan Croker endured a summer of sleepless nights fearing he would be thrown on the NRL scrap heap before finding an unlikely home in Manly's middle.

Croker has emerged as easily the most improved player week-on-week during the Sea Eagles' resurgence this year, filling a key role at hooker in their run to the finals.

It has earned him a new two-year deal at the club ahead of Friday's clash with St George Illawarra, with the 24-year-old now their first-choice hooker with Manase Fainu still stood down.

It's a welcome change in job security for Croker.

Plagued by injuries early in his career as a rising half, Croker was forced into limited minutes as a utility last year while overlooked at five-eighth.

"There was a lot of sleepless nights and wondering where my future laid and what's next for me," Croker admitted.

"I was more concerned that because I hadn't been playing a lot of minutes (I might be forgotten about).

"I know how the business works and I've seen it happen to some of my best mates, so it was 'am I going to have to move home (to Goulburn) or overseas'.

"There were seven million thoughts in my head. I couldn't tell you where I was going to go or what I was going to do.

"So I'm just really happy now."

Croker's move to No.9 came after telling coach Des Hasler of his preference to shift amid Manly's hooker crisis during the off-season.

But while ball skills come naturally for the ex-half, what shouldn't go unnoticed is how he has nailed the move in defence against far bigger men.

And while Croker still watches the halves practice kicking with envy while he does the hard yards training in the middle, he believes the shift has actually made defending easier.

"In the middle there's not as much thinking as there is in the halves and two-on-one being out wide," Croker said.

"Having guys like Jake (Trbojevic) in there next to you, it makes things a lot easier."

Friday night's clash will see the Dragons run out without Matt Dufty, Kaide Ellis and Tyrell Fuimaono who will serve their one-match bans for the infamous barbecue at Paul Vaughan's house.

Daniel Alvaro and Zac Lomax are also unavailable and are currently serving 14 days quarantine for failing to sign a statement that would clear them to shift to Queensland with their teammates.

The 12 players who attended Vaughan's house against NRL and NSW State health orders will serve one-match bans staggered over the next four weeks.

"At this stage we're just working from game to game and if we can average three or four over the period, we'll knock them all over," said Dragons coach Anthony Griffin.

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