Remember when the Canberra Raiders had momentum? They were everyone’s second team and Jack Wighton was the future of rugby league?
He was a centre, a fullback but most importantly to the Raiders and their fans – he was the man that an organisation builds a club around.
Some likened him to Laurie Daley and that made even more sense when they moved him to five-eighth.
Wighton then won an unlikely Dally M Medal last season when he upset hot favourite Nathan Cleary.
This is an Australian and New South Wales representative player. The million-dollar question is – has Wighton not stepped up this year or has it become an impossible task as the club spluttered from one civil war to the next?
You could argue it began after their fairy tale run to the 2019 grand final. Some clubs handle success better than others.
Canberra scratched for every inch again in 2020 but were always swimming against the tide. A huge injury toll and rumours about John Bateman’s future dug away at them. Incredibly, they battled on to the preliminary final but couldn’t withstand the Melbourne Storm.
After the rollercoaster ride all the way to the grand final in ’19, the toll it took on them to keep fighting as intensely as they did for another 12 months would leave them at breaking point by round 1, 2021.
Then another of their Englishmen was on his way back to the United Kingdom. George Williams, admittedly homesick, said he was “kicked out the door” when he was granted a release from his contract in May.
He read the club statement at the same time as everyone else. Williams was adamant he was prepared to play on for the remainder of the season.
“I text to explain my mental well-being to the welfare manager,” Williams began on Twitter.
“I asked for a release weeks ago for the end of the season. Not once did I ask for immediate release but instead of supporting me the club kicked me out the door. Plus I’ve not even signed the release.”
And then there’s Curtis Scott. The troubled outside back who was recently sacked by the Raiders for an off-field incident still under investigation. Scott and his lawyer are considering legal action against the club.
Someone from inside the organisation has been drip-feeding certain media outlets for a very long time in a bid to keep the “brand” as clean as possible.
But there’s been something nasty brewing within the Raiders and where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
So when their season was on the line against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday night, it shouldn’t have shocked anyone that they collapsed in a heap. Death by a thousand cuts.
Wighton never had a chance.
Physically, mentally and statistically – the Raiders just aren’t the side they once were and have been nosediving since 2019 where they led the competition for post contact metres, dummy half runs and total kick metres.
They have topped just one statistical leader board in the last two years.
The Raiders currently led the NRL for most completed tackles on 8,480 – just 118 ahead of St George Illawarra.
Hardly something to hang your hat on.
The Raiders are defending more than any other side in the competition. All the while, they have watched their roster and the quality of their best player – Wighton – deteriorate beyond all recognition.
It has meant that when Wighton does eventually get the ball, it’s to create something, rather than take advantage of momentum. The ‘running’ five-eighth has only gone beyond 100 run metres four times from 21 appearances in 2021 – his worst overall performance since 2013.
After the 40-16 loss that ended their season Ricky Stuart had something interesting thoughts.
“It’s an empty feeling. It’s a shocking feeling because I think we’re a better team than where we’ve ended up on the table,” he said in post-match.
“If we can’t beat that team [the Roosters] out there tonight then we’re only wasting another week being up here.”
A strange comment and a little disrespectful to a team that just played their socks off and beat his in every facet of the game.
The Raiders need to take a good hard look in the mirror and – that’s not necessarily directed at the players.
After all, a fish rots from the head down.