IT'S a game likely to linger long in Mat Croker's memory, even if his Newcastle Knights teammates would prefer to forget it.
Croker spent almost 24 hours in Lake Macquarie Private hospital, on a drip, before he was released on Sunday morning to fly to the Gold Coast for Newcastle's clash with the Titans.
The 22-year-old forward from Nabiac explained that a scratch on his elbow had become infected, and the full extent of the problem did not become apparent until he arrived at training on Saturday for Newcastle's captain's run.
"My elbow had just sort of blown up overnight," Croker told the Newcastle Herald.
"I showed Craig Catterick, who's our chief medical officer, and he said it was a cellulitis infection. He said: 'You've got to get to hospital, because these things can get pretty bad, pretty quick. So I got in there about eight in the morning on Saturday."
I thought I was no chance to play.- MAT CROKER
Croker, who has played in 15 top-grade games this season after debuting in 2021, assumed he had been ruled out.
"When Craig told me I'd have to go to hospital, I was mainly cranky I'd have to miss a game," he said.
"I thought I was no chance to play. But then he said: 'I'll cancel your flight for today and get you on one tomorrow', and I realised I was still a chance. So I spent a day and a night in hospital and checked out at 6am Sunday."
Croker's ordeal was still far from finished. After being picked up by Newcastle football manager Danny Buderus, he realised a crucial item was missing from his luggage.
"I forgot my footy boots and we had to drive to the Centre of Excellence to pick them up," he said.
"The flight was 7.50am and we were cutting it fine. We were a bit worried about missing it. So there were dramas everywhere."
Asked if he could have borrowed a pair of boots from a teammate, Croker replied: "I probably could have, but I'm a bit superstitious. I've got to wear my own boots."
Croker eventually spent 16 minutes on the pitch during the 36-26 loss to the Titans, but it was his commitment to the cause that most impressed Knights coach Adam O'Brien.
"For him to be released on the morning of the game, to get on a plane and take part in the match, says a lot about Crokes as a person and a player," O'Brien said.
"He knew we are down on personnel at the moment and he just kept saying: 'I'll be sweet, I can do the job'."
It was just another challenge for Croker in what has been a breakthrough season from a personal perspective.
"It's been hard," he said.
"This is my first full year in the NRL, and we're not going so well. At times, you feel like you've let a lot of people down, but the nature of the game is that you win some and you lose some. You've just got to move on."
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