The Big Offer


The Canberra Raiders ramped up their attempt to keep Jack Wighton at home by offering him 4 years and $4.4 million to stay in god’s country.

This offer wasn’t so much about what they’re willing to pay, but about planting a flag that all other clubs will have to note. They were saying “whatever you offer Jack, we’re going to offer more.” Wighton may leave to go to Queensland because he wants to live there. He may leave to play for a team closer to being a contender. But if he chooses lifestyle or more guaranteed footy success over his home he’ll have to take a massive pay cut. It’s useful in that Jack knows that Canberra will do anything (as they’ve said routinely since this mess started), but it’s more useful other clubs know this. This can obviously be exploited by other clubs keen to make sure the Raiders ruin their cap to keep him but that’s the nature of a negotiation. You’ve got be sure about where your threats are.

$1.1 million a year sounds like a lot, but as we noted last week, it’s actually just an increase the equivalent of how much the overall salary cap will increase if the NRL ever gets around to acceding to the players’ needs (around 18 per cent). That’s not to say it’s a perfect match – that cap figure that’s often reported overstates how much players like Jack would get a raise because the players’ association is trying to drive that money into the minimum wage. But in the absence of an automatic increase (the so-called ratchet payment) in his current deal, it represents Wighton getting access to the new coffers of gold that will be flowing when the deal is ratified.

That doesn’t mean that a deal is done. The Raiders certainly don’t seem confident. Rarely have I seen them be so blindsided by a potential negotiation as this one. The amount of communications coming out of the club that has boiled down to “we didn’t see that coming and we have no idea what he’s thinking” has been surprising (even if knowing what Jack is thinking is kinda like staring at something thinking it’s one of those magic eye things but then being told it’s actually just a pattern). They didn’t say that with Tapine. They didn’t say that with Papalii. They’ve even indicated about what strategies they make take *if* he leaves, which is never a good sign (and then to say “I guess we’d just stick with the current plan minus Jack”…yikes!).

If there’s a familiarity about this it’s that Jack has borrowed perfectly from both the Papalii and Tapine playbooks. When their deals were being negotiated both leaked, or intimated, that they would love to live in Queensland, nearer to family and/or various lifestyle factors. It’s hard to know how serious either were when those factors ended up being balanced against money that could change not only yours but your children’s lives, but it’s a similar discussion happening with Wighton now. Maybe Wighton is the first one that will make the move. Maybe his management has been following a tried and true playbook.

I honestly have no read on if he’ll stay. This is the last big deal he’ll negotiate, so money and longevity will matter. In terms of the competition, the only real option is Redcliffe. No one good has money to spare without sacrificing what has made them good for a gamble on an over-30, nearly-elite, probably-five-eighth. Jack is an uncertainty anywhere out of Canberra, and spending a million dollarydoos plus a year on someone you *hope* will take another leap is a big question for clubs. You’d have to be really sure you can make him good.

Which is what makes the ‘Phins so terrifying to me. They have money and the need. They have the people that can potentially make him more than he is right now. They’ve hinted they’re willing to go north of a million but it seems they’re more circumspect about getting involved than they have been previously. There’s been rumblings that 800k was their offer and that they want to play him at centre. Bennett has said he wants to talk to Jack to see if he’s serious about being great (that’s my interpretation of his comments anyway), and if he’s sincere about leaving.

That’s probably them being sick of being used as a leverage points for stars looking for a pay day. Reporting last week indicated that Wighton’s management reached out to them, which you can take either way. It could be he’s super keen. It could be that he was targeting them for leverage. All I know is that if Wayne Bennett asked me to come play for him I’d probably say yes. And Uncle Wayne would back himself to make Jack whatever the best version of him is. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

It’s a tough time for Raiders fans. Jack has been provided everything by the club in an attempt to keep him happy and to get the most of his career. He’s been coddled and cajoled. He’s been given positions and opportunities to make money. They’ve structured entire offensive systems around his abilities. Canberra have paid him beyond his production on a bet about potential and intangibles. They’ve forgiven multiple transgressions, both on and off-field, and made excuses for him at every opportunity. He won’t get that kind of love elsewhere.

He has delivered to an extent – a Clive Churchill and a Dally M are evidence of that, but even at his best he’s been nearly a game changer. Almost an elite five-eighth. There’s always been this feeling that perhaps there’s more he could find, something he could find that could make him complete. And that’s what terrifies me about him leaving. Because if Jack does go, and he does find that extra bit that has seemingly evaded him it would confirm that bit that all Raiders’ fans are secretly terrified of. What if the problem isn’t Jack? What if the problem is us? Or more accurately, the organisation (and specifically some one I’ll just call Ricky S. No that’s too obvious). Best not think about it.

For now though this is unlikely the end, as much as I’d prefer that it did. As I said at the top this is about putting a flag in the ground. Canberra have made their big pitch. Now we get to see if Jack is serious about leaving. We get to see if the Dolphins are serious about him going. I just hope he ends up staying.

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One comment

  1. I think it’s becoming clear, even to people who don’t bleed green, that the Raiders are already in a rebuilding phase…I think Kenty admitted as much last night on 360. In that context, what are we really going to get from Jack for our money?

    As you say, he’s not an elite player…he’s an “almost elite”. At his best, he would win a game or two off his own back every season (and sometimes lose a game or two with “out-on-the-full” kicking)…and he’s no longer going to be at his best as a 30+ year-old.

    Even worse, you make the very good point that our attacking systems were built around him at pivot…and have a look how that turned out…easily in the bottom 2 or 3 teams for attacking shapes. If I had a dollar for every time we shifted the ball wide to Jack and he runs across the field towards the sideline, taking space and time off his outside men, before eventually passing to them, I would be…well not rich…but certainly wealthy.

    But for me, the second biggest problem at the Raiders for as long as Ricky has been at the helm (the first being simply that Ricky is at the helm) is simply that we are, in the aggregate, a dumb team. We simply don’t have enough strategists and thinkers ( a la Cooper Cronk, for example), and Jack has been emblematic of that dearth of football IQ. He’s an athlete more than a footballer, and while you need players like that, we at the Raiders don’t. We need an injection of brains (can you get brain injections these days…stem cells perhaps?).

    I say let him go and start again. Short term pain for long term gain. There’s nothing we can do with the current ageing roster to be genuine contenders, so what’s the point in trying to wring blood from a stone?


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