Coach Jason Demetriou is confident the NRL’s review into Jack Wighton’s newly inked South Sydney contract will reveal nothing untoward, slamming “agenda-driven” critiques of the cut-price deal.
On Wednesday, the 2020 Dally M Medallist officially signed a four-year contract to join the Rabbitohs from next season, just under a month after telling Canberra he would test the open market for the first time since signing as a teenager.
The allure of a premiership ring and the chance to play alongside close friends Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker are believed to have swayed Wighton from more lucrative deals at the Dolphins and Raiders, both of whom offered seven-figure salaries.
The Rabbitohs’ ability to afford Wighton has come under scrutiny given big-name players Mitchell, Walker, Cameron Murray and Damien Cook are all on the books already.
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The NRL prohibits back-ended contracts – those that pay less at the beginning of the deal to squeeze a player under an already tight salary cap – and the Raiders have already called for the NRL to probe the Rabbitohs offer to ensure it fits within league guidelines.
Jason Demetriou. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told AAP on Wednesday the contract would be reviewed as is standard practice but Demetriou was confident no issues would be found.
“It’s a circus with agenda-driven people saying things that they have no information about,” he said of the punditry.
“The reality is we’re comfortable with it, we’ll go to the NRL. Jack’s comfortable, it’s all above board so we’ve got no problems.”
Across 225 first-grade games, Wighton has become the face of the Raiders and his imminent departure has left the club reeling.
In a lengthy statement released Wednesday, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart took aim at the NRL’s contract system for allowing players to sign deals with rival clubs well in advance of their first season there.
As it stands players are free to test the open market from the November prior to the last year of their contract, a system that has long proven unpopular over fears players could become distracted by their impending moves.
The Rabbitohs found themselves in a similar situation to the Raiders in mid-2021 when veteran halfback Adam Reynolds rejected a short-term contract extension to sign with Brisbane for 2022.
“I understand that it’s tough when a player’s having to do this in-season,” Demetriou said of Stuart’s grievances.
“That’s not ideal, we went through it with Adam as well and he made the decision to go and he was outstanding for the rest of the year as I’m sure Jack will be.”
Calls to implement a post-season contract window have historically been met with resistance from the Rugby League Players Association on the ground players require time to make decisions about their future.
But Demetriou said he would be open to reforming the current system. “I’d have to get more information and find out how it works,” he said.
“But everyone knows it’s not ideal that players are signing contracts with this long to go before the season when they’re at their current clubs.”
Wighton’s impending move from the Raiders left him on the receiving end of racist social media comments this week, with the Wiradjuri man calling his abuser out on Instagram on Wednesday night.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart with Jack Wighton. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Raiders skipper adamant team can bounce back
Canberra skipper Elliott Whitehead insists his club can still win an NRL premiership, despite star half Jack Wighton leaving in search of an elusive flag.
The first Raiders player to speak publicly since Wighton this week signed a four-year deal with South Sydney to begin from next season, Whitehead said he respected his teammate’s decision and fully expected the five-eighth to continue to deliver in the back half of 2023.
Wighton, who has won a World Cup and State of Origin series to go with his Dally M and Clive Churchill medals, took a significantly smaller pay packet to head to the Rabbitohs and join a side that has made five successive preliminary finals.
But Whitehead disagreed his current teammate was giving himself a better chance of completing his trophy cabinet by moving clubs, insisting the Raiders have the troops to deliver.
“That’s his opinion,” Whitehead said. “We’ve got a good enough squad here to win the premiership this year and I feel like we’ll have the squad next year to win it.
“Jacko is a big loss. I respect his decision, it’s a personal one and he thought he needed a change.”
Wighton was disappointed news of his move broke before he had the chance to tell his teammates, Raiders second-rower Hudson Young said.
“That’s the type of bloke Jack is, he’d never shy away from anything like that,” he said. “He wanted to tell Stick (coach Ricky Stuart) first, (but) once he told Ricky the media had hold of it before any (players) could find out.
“I’m sure there’ll be times where we chat about it but it was his decision for him and his family … he wanted the change, so that’s the path he’s taken.
“But the show will go on. He’s a great mate of mine, I love playing next to him.”
Wighton was subject to racial abuse following the announcement of his move, and shared screenshots of messages he had received on Instagram.
Whitehead described the abuse as “well out of order”, saying he doubted the perpetrators would have the courage to make the comments to Wighton in person.
“Hopefully the police can get to the bottom of it with the person that sent the comments and not just accept an apology, actually make a statement and give him some kind of punishment” the Canberra skipper said. “There’s a lot of abuse on social media and a lot of people like to get on their keyboards and type away, I’m not sure how many would say that to his face.
“You don’t want that in the world or in the game … he’s very competitive and a winner at heart. He’s been at this club for so long and done so much for this club.
“To see some fans turn against him because of his decision is a bit sad really, but I’m sure he’s going to give it his all for the rest of the season.”
Addo-Carr, Kikau set for longer on NRL sidelines
Josh Addo-Carr won’t return to NRL action in time for NSW’s State of Origin series opener while Canterbury teammate Viliame Kikau is expected to spend at least three more months on the sideline.
The latest update on the star duo provides a shattering double blow for the Bulldogs.
Addo-Carr has not played since he suffered a syndesmosis injury against South Sydney on Good Friday when his ankle rolled on the Accor Stadium turf.
The flying winger suggested earlier this month he was hopeful of returning within five weeks of the injury, in time from NSW’s Origin series opener against Queensland in Adelaide on May 31.
But the Bulldogs confirmed on Thursday that was not realistic.
In an official injury update on their website, Addo-Carr is now predicted to return in six to eight weeks, with the club eyeing a comeback in round 15 against Parramatta.
That would leave the 27-year-old only one match to push for NSW selection in Origin II on June 21.
It comes after incumbent NSW winger Daniel Tupou suffered a hamstring tear in the Sydney Roosters’ Anzac Day win over St George Illawarra.
Brian To’o appears locked in on one wing for NSW, but the options are now limited on the other with Tom Trbojevic one possibility to play out wide while introducing Campbell Graham in the centres.
The news is also bad for Kikau.
(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
When the high-profile recruit ruptured his pectoral muscle earlier this month the club expected him to spend at least 10 weeks on the sideline.
However, the predicted return has now blown out far longer, with his anticipated return now on July 30 in round 22 against the Dolphins.
“Scans revealed a full rupture and he has since undergone repair surgery and is recovering well,” the Bulldogs said in a statement.
“He will now begin his rehabilitation process and the club will work with the relevant medical professionals to manage his injury post operatively.”
NRLW secures big exposure amid timeslot challenges
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is confident timeslot clashes between men’s and women’s matches will only be a short-term issue after fans were asked to pick between games when the NRLW kicks off this season.
The NRL revealed its women’s draw for 2023 on Thursday, with the league expanding to 10 teams and a nine-round regular season. Gold Coast will host North Queensland in the NRLW season opener on July 22, as one of three matches to be played on the competition’s opening day.
Newcomers Cronulla and Canberra will also clash in the opening round, while Wests Tigers’ inaugural match will be against Parramatta.
In a significant boost for the NRLW, all 48 matches will be shown on free-to-air TV via the Nine Network, placing it above the likes of the WBBL, A-League Women and AFLW. Most rounds will include an NRLW double-header, while every team will play at least one match at the same venue as their men’s side.
There will also be prime-time Thursday night games in the final two rounds, with the men’s finals leaving the spot vacant. But there are challenges.
Newcastle Knights won the 2022 NRLW Grand Final (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
The FIFA Women’s World Cup has left the NRL with less flexibility in stadiums, while the desire to play most games on weekends has limited the amount of timeslots available.
As revealed by AAP on Wednesday, 15 of the women’s games will clash with men’s matches, leaving viewers to choose between the competitions.
It marks the first time the NRL has had fans regularly choose between the broadcast of games since 2013, while concurrent Friday night games were played in the men’s as recently as 2016 but with split broadcasts.
“We are treating this year as a test run too,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told AAP. “It’s not set in stone for the next couple of years.
“This particular season we have a couple of challenges. We have the FIFA Women’s World Cup and we lose a lot of stadiums. We have more constraints than normal. In future years we are going to think innovatively about how we can avoid slot clashes.
“But obviously as the competition grows, you are going to have to find a slot for these fixtures.”
Still, the clashes do offer some positives with Nine able to offer free-to-air rugby league throughout both weekend days. “They are very excited about this and we wanted to make sure it was on the main channel, being promoted in all markets,” Abdo said.
“So it’s great exposure for our players and clubs.”
The announcement comes after Papua New Guinean international Elsie Albert became the latest big-name player to trade clubs on Thursday, moving from St George Illawarra to Parramatta.