Canberra face an injury toll as crippling as any time in Ricky Stuart’s coaching career but the Raiders mentor insists his team can’t be written off in 2020.
Jack Wighton. The boy from Orange, the Raiders’ favourite son and one of the biggest advocates for Canberra Milk.
138 NRL appearances to his name since his debut in 2012 and no sign of slowing down. His form has gone to another level in the 2019 season. But, the big question on everyone’s lips. Is he ready for Origin footy?
Jack has been on the cusp of Origin for a few years now, representing various Origin pathway sides like NSW Country, the PM’s XIII and even the All Stars.
It hasn’t been an easy path for him though, with injuries delaying his career and some well publicised (and let’s be honest, stupid) off-field incidents. But it seems Jack has pulled his head in, got his body right and is firing for the Green Machine.
The Canberra product has taken his game to another level in 2019, much due to Ricky Stuart’s gamble at playing him at five-eighth instead of his preferred fullback position.
The gamble has paid off and the Raiders have been in red-hot form. Look, there is an English contingent that has helped – helped a lot – but not many can argue that Wighton’s move to number 6 hasn’t helped boost his side up the ladder.
Even though his NRL profile still labels him as a fullback, Wighton in the halves has provided a powerful running game and eyes up footy that the Raiders have been missing over the past few years.
With Josh Hodgson running the show from hooker, Sam Williams organising the structure and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad supporting out the back, Wighton has been able to do his own thing. He is damaging teams down the left edge with his speed off the mark, a dynamic step and brutal fend.
His game puts defenders in two minds and gives some space to his outside men, or at least provides some nice run metres to help his team push up the field and apply more pressure to the opposition.
For comparison with other five-eighths, Wighton is currently averaging 78m per game with 10m per run, the most of any five-eighth.
Cameron Munster is at 72m (second), showing he isn’t afraid to take the line on. He has made 24 tackle busts, second to Munster with 25, proving his strength with ball in hand.
He even has a kicking game, kicking for 2019m this year (fourth). His defence has been holding up strong, making 160 tackles this year (second to Munster again) and hasn’t missed a game so far.
Unfortunately he does have a down side, missing two tackles per game, giving away a penalty per game and making 19 errors in 2019 (tied third of any player).
Despite his downside, I think Wighton is made for the Origin Arena. He is a big body with pace and skill. His move to the halves has improved his decision making with the ball and defensively and has boosted his involvement and contribution to his team.
It is obvious he has matured as a player and should be ready for the leap into the big league.
Now, with the incredible form of Luke Keary and Cody Walker he will not be in the 6 jumper. But with the downfall of James Roberts and Euan Aitken, injuries to Jack Bird, Joey Leilua and Tom Trbojevic – a right centre opportunity opens up.
Even though Wighton has been predominately on the left this year, his history at fullback means he is not unfamiliar with the right side and is more than capable to slot in on the right.
Additionally, his newly found halves position gives him the know in what his inside man will do as well as improve his ability in setting up his outside man, likely Blake Ferguson. (Side note: Imagine a side with Jack and Fergo).
With his power running game, new outlook in attack, handy kicking game and solid defensive ability, he is more than up to the challenge of Origin, providing some diversity and prowess with the footy, he will be hard to remove once in the team.
Brad Fittler will have his hands full picking the NSW team this year but Jack Wighton is a more than suitable and compelling option to don a Blues jersey. Up the Blues!