A Win Win Situation

BY DAN

Jack Wighton has finalised what feels like the longest rose ceremony in recent history, signing a 4 year, $3 million extension with the people’s rugby league team, the Canberra Raiders, according to the Canberra Times.

The discussion started right after his star turn in last year’s grand final. His then new agent, Matt Rose, was keen to strike while the iron was hot (and get his hands on the sweet, sweet commission that would otherwise be going to Wighton’s previous agent).

That it took to now to finalise was a surprise. Wighton pretty much straight away expressed his desire to stay in Canberra and repay the club for backing him with his *ahem* legal dramas of the year previous. All that was left to discuss was just how much the Milk would have to sacrifice in order to keep Jack on board.

We’ve written a heap on Jack in recent times.

The Price is Right?

Negotiating Tactics

Jack Wighton is actually good

Despite Jack giving away his leverage almost straight away it did seem like this would be an expensive deal for Canberra. Almost immediately it was reported that Jack would be the highest paid Raider in history. Wighton’s ability to play at least three positions would also drive his price up by drawing interest – at least in principle – from any club with a desire to upgrade and fullback, centre or half (which is pretty much everyone). The fact that he’s already an Origin and Australian representative, Clive Churchill winner, is entering his prime and still has room to improve his game should have driven his price to an almost unsustainable level.

This obviously would create pressure for the Green Machine to incorporate Wighton’s demands and maintain the shape of the roster in the face of emerging cap pressure. This was particularly pertinent given John Bateman’s desire for an extension, and the fact that Nic Cotric and Jarrod Croker would be both seeking new deals by the end of 2020. Call it collateral damage. Either the Raiders would have to spend to keep Jack, or let other talent walk to “greener” pastures. Aidan Sezer, Jordan Rapana and (to a lesser extent) BJ Leilua know what that looks like.

But if the reports are to be believed that Wighton has signed on for four years at $3 million, it represents a remarkably fair outcome. $750k a year is broadly what Jack was reported to be on before this contract, and means that Wighton undoubtedly left money on the table to stay in Canberra.

It’s slightly overwhelming. Since when did the Raiders get to pay the market rate for stars? Since when did they not have to pay a Canberra tax, reflective of the fewer corporate dollars in the nation’s capital that can be used via third parties to supplement salaries? If Curtis Scott didn’t, well, you know, one might be tempted to say it could be part of an emerging trend that the Raiders are an attractive organisation.

I’m wary of drawing this conclusion with only a couple of flawed data points. Scott seemed to be like a young star picking Canberra over the Storm. It seems now it was the Storm saying “too hard.” With Wighton the Milk may well be getting a “thanks for staying strong” discount. I’ve said it before, but this is as likely a moment in time as any particular trend.

Regardless, this resolution is great news for all parties. In Canberra Wighton has a home that provides space and time for his development. Jack will always have a home in Canberra, even if he never develops beyond the excellent ball-runner and developing creator he currently is. He gets a coach that is going nowhere and believes in him, almost unconditionally, but isn’t afraid to tell hard truths. The team structure suits him; supporting ball players (rather than just hard runners) on both sides of him that allow his running threat to have maximum impact. High level organisation coming from the ruck provides Jack with the space to grow into a more ball dominant role, though 2019 revealed he revelled in touches. There’s also off-field benefits for Wighton – anyone that’s ever lived in Canberra knows it’s a good place to raise a family. And if I can play pop-psychologist, he seems like the kind of guy that enjoys the (relatively) smaller spotlight that tends to shine on Canberra.

It’s good for the Raiders also – not just because they get to keep Jack for four year. It also means more flexibility in the cap to spend on Bateman in the short term, and space to find coin to keep Nic Cotric and Jarrod Croker in green beyond 2020. It means they are locked up with a core of players over the next few years, and can continue to build the cohesion and combinations that smarter people than me (like Gain Line Analytics) have routinely said can drive better performance. Finally, finalising it this far out from the season too, puts paid to a matter that could be a distraction if it rolled on through the pre-season

So congratulations to Jack, and the Raiders, for managing to finalise what I had assumed would be a much quicker process. Both sides of this deal are better off for it.

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