He arrived at Salford Red Devils a damaged soul, discarded as a failure at just 24 years old by the most unforgiving league in the world.
Now, in reigniting both Salford and his own promising career, Brodie Croft is hinting at greatness as one of the sport’s most influential players.
“I’ve fallen back in love with rugby league at Salford,” Croft tells The Sportsman.
- Betfred's Latest Super League Outrights*
“It was good to get over here for fresh air, a fresh start and enjoy going to training again. I will be forever grateful to this bunch of boys.”
Croft has been a revelation in the Betfred Super League, his raw genius recognised this year as one of three contenders for the prestigious Steve Prescott Man Of Steel award.
His dynamic rapport and deep-worked understanding with scrum-half Mark Sneyd and full-back Ryan Brierley has also been the key ingredient in Salford’s devastating run to the playoffs.
The Salford spine are best friends on and off the pitch and have revealed the hard work they have put in to allow general Croft to realise his outrageous potential.
“I saw what Brodie went through in the NRL where he was unfairly treated by the media,” Brierley tells The Sportsman of the player crushed under the heavy burden of being labelled the next Cooper Cronk.
“I felt like I had an obligation to look after him a bit so he can express himself and be himself.
“I just feel a bit sorry for Brodie who was passing the ball to Billy Slater a couple of years ago and now he’s passing the ball to me!”
After an NRL debut at 19, Croft endured a tough two years trying to establish himself in a star-studded Melbourne Storm side where he was understudy to legends Cronk, Slater and Cameron Smith - three of the greatest players of all time.
The Storm stay ended with Croft before being shipped out to Brisbane last year. The hometown boy was supposed to be the Broncos’ saviour, but was unable to make a telling impact on a struggling side that would eventually finish bottom of the league.
“Brodie came to us a damaged soul, probably not high on any shopping list,” adds Salford coach Paul Rowley.
“In the NRL you get battered. He started at Melbourne with those Goats and then at Brisbane he was thrust into a leadership role at a young age. He wasn’t allowed to breathe.”
Croft’s experience with the media in Australia has left him a little wary of the British press too. It is clear though that through his friendship with Brierley in particular, the Queenslander has flourished, and the rich irony is that his blossoming career is already seeing him linked back to the same NRL that spat him out.
“When things were not going too well, particularly last year at Brisbane, I lost some love for rugby league,” Croft admits.
“The reason you play is because you love the game and get excited for it but last year I lost that love and enthusiasm. I’d go to training fired up to get better and always had the belief but it was like banging your head against a brick wall.
“It was frustrating, tougher on my family as I’ve learned to stay away from that stuff. People can say what they want, that’s their job, mine is to perform. And if I’m not performing then people are open to their opinions. But I knew my family were taking it pretty hard, my missus, mum and dad, extended family. You can’t get away from it in Queensland.”
Croft says a phonecall with Salford’s England star Kallum Watkins opened the door for his move to the UK with wife Safina, from Cambridge.
“I rang Kal before I came over and had a good in-depth chat with him about the boys and that gave me an indication of what the club is about.
“Rowls (coach Paul Rowley) told me his direction and I was excited about the style of football he wanted to play. I was already excited about a fresh start but super excited when he told me how he wanted to play.
“He told us during pre-season that when things go to shit out there and our structures aren’t working, you guys (Croft, Brierley and Sneyd) are the first guys I’m going to come down hard on - to your face, in front of the group.
“And he did do that, we got our legs taken off us a few times, which held us accountable. I respect and enjoy that sort of coaching. I have to make sure every play has a purpose behind it or I’m going to be put on show.”
The Rowley way is working for Salford and has brought the best out of Croft.
And in channelling Brodie’s brilliance, the whole club has been lifted, according to Brierley.
“I think the scary thing for Brodie is that he’s just getting started. He will be a special player. The biggest compliment I can give him is that he makes everyone else better, which is the ultimate compliment. He has taken my game to a totally different level and made me accountable.
“From watching him in the NRL and seeing how good a person he is I felt we’d see the best version of him. And our media has been great with him. He has been allowed to be unapologetically himself. There is a lot that me, Brodie and Sneyd talk about that the coaches won’t even know about in terms of the plays we want to put in at the weekend.
“I see myself as one of his best friends now but I wanted to make sure that he was himself as I felt bad about how he was treated at home.
“He had an unbelievable talent, it just needed to be unlocked.”
*18+ | BeGambleAware