The Daily Telegraph today reported that Jack Wighton hadn’t picked up his option for 2023, putting him on the market for rival teams. While this may raise an eyebrow, and should be taken seriously by the Raiders, this is more an example of a player making sure he’s getting his due than hitting the road.
Wighton’s current deal is 4 years for roughly 3 million bones (or 750k a year). The last two years are player options, meaning from 1 November the year prior he can pick up his option for the season after the next. Right now he has the option to say he’ll be at the Raiders for 2023. He’s reportedly verbally rejected that option, though he can always pick it up at another time.
You might remember this “not taking up the option” tactic from the last time Jack renegotiated his deal. At the end of 2019 Jack refused to pick up an option for 2020 of 750k, sent rugby league media into a cynical tizz, and ended up staying in Canberra, because they were (and are) the only team willing to pay that much and more for his services (Jack was reportedly worth up to 900k with incentives). Then it was driven by a change in Jack’s market value (i.e 2019 – were you there? It was rad) and new management wanting commission. Not much has changed.
At the time it was remarked he took unders for a Clive Churchill winner and Origin player. As CEO extraordinaire Don “Kendall Roy” Furner said at the time:
Jack could have earnt more money by signing with another club but sacrificed that against what we have here in Canberra. He took much less money to stay and that says a lot about Jack and his stability here.Courtesy Dan Walsh at nrl.com
He followed that up with the Dally M winning 2020 season and what seemed like an ability to play a big role in making sure the Raiders were competitive forever. Of course that was the plan.
As Jack himself said:
“To be here as one of the main players of the club, trying to help it grow and thrive, it’s very special to me and it’s something I take with a lot of responsibility now that I’ve been here so long. I want to win a competition with the Raiders.”Courtesy Dan Walsh again.
At the time Wighton was hot property but stayed in Canberra because it was a better place for him personally and professionally. It was clear from what both him and Donnie boy said that this was about fit, in terms of his style, with the club, and with the area, than it was about chasing big money.
So what’s changed? It’s curious timing for a renogotiation. After 2021 the gap between his value and his salary feels a lot smaller than it did in 2020. Jack had a horror 2021 – like almost everyone in the Canberra squad – but received far less scrutiny, either from the media or the team, for his part in it. Fellow spine members Josh Hodgson and George Williams were moved on. Star forwards Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii were singled out and dropped at various points of the season. Jarrod Croker’s performance became a talking point. Other players weren’t asked back. Meanwhile Jack had five try assists for the season before a three-try-assist effort against the Storm in round 22 padded the stats when it was too late. Jack’s running metres were down by about 20 metres a game, and he forced less repeat sets than any season since he shifted to the halves. So he’s not coming in with his strongest hand.
But of course there are extenuating circumstances. It’s worth noting that previous negotiations for Jack were influenced by changes in his representation. Matt Rose took over when Jack “shocked” the world and rejected his option at the end of 2019 – allowing Rose to pocket the commission of a new deal. Rose handed back his agent accreditation at the beginning of 2021 to focus on his management of boxer Tim Tszyu. Since then his other two biggest clients – Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell – have negotiated new deals. Rose is reportedly advising Warwick Wright’s handling of these players (though I can’t find anything to say he’s managing Jack too). Whoever has taken over Jack, be it Wright or otherwise, has to re-negotiate in order to get commission. It’s a re-run of 2019.
So this is more noise than chaos. The on-field stagnation and the off-field transition indicate that this is more about maximising his worth than moving on. Jack’s unique style has always been a very specific match to the Raiders, and in particular, Coach Stuart. Sticky has gone out of his way to structure the Milk’s footy around suiting Jack’s skills, allowing him to set up on the left and play a very specific set of footy scenarios rather than take a bigger role as most leading ball-players would. Even the addition of Jamal Fogarty can be seen as much in the light of allowing Jack to do what he does best without the bother of being the boss. This is what makes it hard to see Jack leave Canberra. Taking more money elsewhere brings a responsibility and a set of skills that Jack hasn’t yet displayed. A team may pay overs for him, but the number needed to blow the Raiders deal out of the water that might go as high as 900k feels too high for any sane organisation. Is anyone clamouring to make Jack a million dollar man?
It seems likely that Jack decision to not pick up his contract for 2023 is about maximising his value. He’ll be 29 by the time next season rolls around and smart management will be wanting to make his earnings window is extended as much as possible. This is about making sure he gets as much money out of his career as he can, rather than any dissatisfaction with his situation or desire for new views.