Jack Wighton is about to become a very wealthy human. He has reportedly been offered 900k by the Raiders to stay in Canberra. It would apparently make him the highest paid Raider ever, and with representative footy payments could make him a million dollar man. To keep Jack in Canberra the Green Machine will have to pay him for his promise of what might be rather than the performance that has been.
That’s not to say Wighton hasn’t put his name up in lights. Anyone who watched his transition to a starting six and focal point in the offence will note he probably deserves to be well-compensated. However, his potential three year, $2.7m extension sits at the top end of pay bracket for his contemporaries.
It’s interesting to compare his potential extension to Cody Walker’s recently signed two-year extension of 650k a year.
Jack’s undoubtably a better defender, and made 110 tackles more over the season (near 5 game more which is more than 40 percent more tackles a game than Walker). His defensive efficiency (83 percent to Walker’s 80 per cent only partially accounts for his) – Wighton actually seeks out defensive work with a voracity with which I seek out Christmas ham.
On attacking numbers there’s plus and minuses in both camps. Walker is unquestionably brilliant, and similarly to Jack wouldn’t be called a traditional ball-player, but the combination of his running and support game and his ability to create using his short kicking game, makes him effective and often electric in attack. Walker had a bucketload more try assists than Jack as the fulcrum of Souths left-side attack (16-5 on NRL.com’s numbers or 21-10 on Fox’s numbers).
For his part Jack is a more damaging runner – more brutal than Walker’s dexterous feet. His 100 plus metres a game opened up space for the men around him, and while he didn’t have a huge number of assists, I would consider the devastating Raiders left side attack as being driven by his work. His 25 try involvements were reflective of Jack’s ability to constantly threaten on the run. The 7 try assists (on NRL numbers, 11 on foxsports) that Jarrod Croker and Elliot Whitehead delivered in 2019 are just more evidence of that.
But at a very general level they are broadly comparable players – both played origin, both had moments of career highs in 2019, neither are known as traditional halves. You might see one as more skilled or talented than the other (and I do) but you could say they are in the same conversation. In a vacuum you may not think they’d be paid the same, but you’d think they’d be in the same ballpark. So why the substantial difference in pay?
Of course Jack’s agent has struck while the proverbial iron is as hot as the eastern seaboard currently is. A Clive Churchill award, three…well, two-and-three-quarter-games of successful origin footy, and a breakout year. These are all reasons that Jack is getting more coin.
What is also important is Wighton’s potential for development. I believe the kids call it ‘upside’. Walker is 30 and we’ve seen his best footy in 2019. While he was scintillating in the preliminary final, at other points of the season he was less effective. My feeling is most people in the game – particularly rival teams – see him as somewhat a finished product, for better or worse. Jack is 26 and entering his prime. He has just begun to touch the edges of what could be a long career as an elite number six. As we said recently, there’s plenty of potential left to develop, and he’s shown in the past that it can take him time to ‘warm’ to a position.
Further, demand for him will always exist outside Canberra because of the options left in the development of his game. He could be the next Laurie Daley and dominate as a running six over the next 6-10 years. On a team with elite halves he could slot in at fullback, or centre as he does in origin. Many continue to argue that his future lies elsewhere, though he’ll be in six as long as he’s in green. The point is his potential to be elite at three positions will always drive demand and cost.
In having to find an extra 250k, the Raiders are showing they’re all in on Jack. They likely made when Wighton showed that he could handle the transition to six and gave a glimpse of what could be. 900 thousand dollars is a lot of money, but Canberra aren’t paying for what has been. They’re paying for might be.