This is the second instalment of the series where we run our eye over the nudie run, one of rugby league’s greatest traditions.
Rival clubs are reportedly ready to pounce on Jack Wighton, but Raiders legend Laurie Daley is confident the 2020 Dally M Medallist will remain in the nation’s capital.
As revealed by News Corp, interest has been shown in the 28-year-old five-eighth who is yet to activate contract options in his favour for 2023 and 2024.
It means the 2019 Clive Churchill Medallist could leave Canberra at the end of next season if he wants to test himself in a new environment.
Wighton has played 199 NRL matches since debuting for the Raiders in 2012 and Daley believes he’s likely to stay a one-club man.
And coming off a quiet season by his lofty standards, Daley queried whether Wighton will command bigger dollars elsewhere.
“(If) that’s his preferred option to test himself on the open market … the Raiders then get a chance to assess and see how he’s playing as well,” Daley told Big Sports Breakfast radio.
“Obviously, the contract is in Jack’s favour, so he’ll have to improve on what he did last year because if he doesn’t improve on last year, I’m sure he’ll take that contract up pretty quickly.
“But if he comes out and plays the way he did in 2019, he’s a chance of being offered more money at another club. But do you want to relocate to another club when you’re quite settled in Canberra?
“I don’t think it’s an issue for the Raiders at the moment – I think Jack wants to make sure he’s playing good football for the club first and foremost.
“And if he does that then it comes down to a decision that he makes.
“Is he happy in the environment? Which I’m sure he is. Does he like playing for the club? Yep, and I’m sure he’ll take up that option.”
Despite being grand finalists only two years ago, the Raiders look to be in somewhat of a rebuilding phase.
They’ve already bid farewell to six players from the 2019 grand final defeat to the Roosters while hooker Josh Hodgson is set to move to the Wests Tigers ahead of 2022.
According to 7NEWS, Hodgson’s long-mooted switch to Concord could be officialised “very soon” after a standoff of sorts between the clubs.
That would leave Tom Starling as Canberra’s first-choice hooker. The dynamic rake landed himself in hot water during the off-season but his on-field prowess is undoubted.
If Wighton opted against staying at Canberra, fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad could be the only surviving grand final spine member come 2023.
Injuries didn’t help Canberra this season and, in fairness, they showed more of their customary fight in the latter stages of the competition despite finishing 10th.
The messy mid-season departure of halfback George Williams was a significant disruption as the Englishman followed star back-rower John Bateman in returning home.
Now, the Raiders will start over again with former Titans captain Jamal Fogarty wearing the No.7. How Fogarty combines with Wighton will prove crucial to their finals aspirations.
Much was made of the fact that Williams and Wighton were similar players – both possess lethal running games and thrive in broken play situations.
And while that partnership had some success, particularly on the back of the six-again rule’s introduction in 2020 as Canberra made the preliminary final, Fogarty’s steady, organisational style might help unlock Wighton’s best.
With Aidan Sezer barking orders and guiding the team around the park in ’19, Wighton was freed up to play instinctively – and it almost took the Green Machine to a title.
A revitalised Wighton, combined with a plethora of young backline talent including Xavier Savage, Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko, has the potential to shoot the Raiders back up the ladder.
Meanwhile, the acquisition of Adam Elliott could breathe new life into Canberra’s pack. Capable of playing on an edge or in the middle, a focused Elliott – who is essentially playing for his NRL future, only inking a one-year deal after being moved on by Canterbury – can have a big impact.
You get the feeling that if the Raiders can re-establish themselves as playoffs and premiership contenders, Wighton will be happy to stick around in the ACT.
But another subpar season collectively or individually might convince the NSW and Australian representative to seek a late-career change.