Crotty the big 12 on Crusaders campus

Getty Images     12 Feb 2013     Getty Images

The arrival of Sonny Bill Williams denied him the No.12 jersey he coveted and he made only three starts in 18 games.

But he stayed loyal to his Canterbury roots and the personable 24-year-old now has first rights to that jumper after an outstanding 2012 year both for his Super franchise and for his province.

He was even tipped as a bolter for the All Blacks northern hemisphere tour and while that did not happen he is keen to press his claims this year.

In recognition of his seniority within the Crusaders, Crotty captained the team for the first time in its second pre-season match against the Highlanders in Oamaru on Friday. While the result was not what he wanted – the Highlanders prevailed 38-21 – he was proud to be skipper.

"It was pretty cool, pretty special," Crotty said at Crusaders training on Monday. "Mum and dad came down and watched and were pretty stoked and I guess for me it was an opportunity to develop that side of my game.

"Being a leader in the team is something I really enjoy. I'm pretty good mates with the older fellas and I'm still young enough to be among the young blokes. I want to help get the team to bond and play."

Crotty said no alarm bells were ringing despite the Crusaders having lost to the Hurricanes and the Highlanders. Their final pre-season hit-out is against the Waratahs in Sydney on Thursday when it is expected they will have their All Blacks available.

"The way our season starts [the Crusaders have a first-round bye] we've got that extra week to get the rugby content right so we've spent a bit of time as a team getting our values sorted and doing all that behind-the-scenes stuff.

"We've been trying a few different things and learning from each game. We've got some guys still with niggles and the All Blacks to come back into the group so that's given opportunities for a lot of the academy players."

Crotty believes his game really improved last year and he is ready to step higher again. "This season is really about knocking on that All Blacks door and really performing well for the Crusaders first and foremost and nailing down that 12 jersey.

"I always want to get better and keep sharpening the blade. I felt my game picked up at the back end of the Super competition last season when I got an opportunity and I felt I was really sharp through the ITM Cup and helped us [Canterbury] to get over the line.

"Now I want to kick on and really establish myself as a senior player and play consistently well every week."