A old fashioned Canberra fog has descended on Jack Wighton. Debate and conjecture about where he might, what matters to him, and what he wanted from a career have been front and centre in rugby league discourse. Wighton has responded with a retirement from representative footy, a performance for the ages (and not in a good way) and some intriguing comments to the Canberra Times. What is happening with Jack?
For the past few weeks there’s been plenty of speculation about the end point for Wighton’s contract negotiation. Suckers like us were left to parse this mess to work out what information was real and what was not. Was the latest news sourced from his agent, clubs, or commentators having as much information as we do and being forced into having a take because we are an impatient ravenous horde who can’t survive without takeahol? What is true and what wasn’t is never easy to ascertain in this environment. It’s rhetorical chaos and we’re just picking up the pieces.
Part of the problem is that the process of ‘going’ and the process of ‘staying at the highest money possible’ look really similar. The threat has to appear real but the breadcrumbs everyone had been chasing like china white were inconclusive. Jack was ‘interested’ in moving to Queensland (who isn’t?). He was renovating his house for sale (or to live in?). He wanted to win a premiership (which NRL player doesn’t?) The ‘Phins were willing to break a million for him (ok put it on the table). They were only going to pay $800k and make him play centre and Kristian Wolf didn’t want to be hamstrung by Wayne Bennett’s profligacy (according to someone Sticky has often been a source for, David Riccio). He played terrible against the Dragons because he was distracted (just like he did in 2022 when presumably he was distracted by the wind). It’s been all so mixed and jacked (got ’em yes!) by information clearly coming from sources with either agendas, or access to people with agendas.
It’s clearly been weighing on Jack. His performance on the weekend was anything but clear headed, and while it’s hard to ascribe causality here (for example he was very bad against the Dragons last year as well, and was without a contract controversy to blame) it’s not ridiculous to think that the noise has had an impact. This was already apparent after he spoke up late last week (in an exclusive for David Polkinghorne at the Canberra Times). In these circumstances players tend to clam up and refer all questions to their manager, seeking to maintain the leverage they have. Wighton instead seemed happy to talk motivations and what he’s hoping to achieve from this process.
Most notably what was clear was that for Jack it felt this is about wanting to make sure he’s seen what’s out there before he signs anything. From the perspective of a manager this is about making sure that everyone comes correct in terms of cash to the face. For Jack I suspect it’s more about a man who’s basically been a Raiders for his whole junior and senior career without considering other options. When mortality stares us in the face we want to be sure we’ve not wasted our time. Or as Jack put it:
I just wanted to know I finished my career and did get to experience that path of having a look and that’s about it. There’s no bad blood, there’s no wanting to go nowhere – I’m just wanting to explore this option I had in my contract.Jack to Dr Polkinghorne
Wighton continually reiterated this to the Canberra Times. For him this is about due diligence and knowing what’s out there, and not about some inherent desire for change, or for a premiership, or to move to Queensland for football (though he did note he would be interested in living there in the future, because who doesn’t envisage their retirement including laying on a beach with a cocktail in hand and a hat over their eyes).
I’m just exploring my options at the moment – nothing more than that – we’re just having a look…It’s something I’ve never done in my whole career so I thought before my career’s done why not explore that option and see what it’s like.Jack to Reverend Polkinghorne
To paraphrase my dawg Billy Shakes the beauty of these statements is bought by judgement of the eye. You could take that as “i’m on the market to know what’s available but it’s just due diligence before I say where i’m wanted”, or you could see it as the prerequisite for departure. A ground softening so to speak. But Jack then went on to say two things that gave me succour for the first time in this process.
First he said “this career is very short and that dream [of living in Queensland]… if it has to wait it has to wait.” ‘This career is short’ is something that should be (and probably is) drummed into players throughout their career. Every season they get to play NRL and get paid NRL cash is a blessing. An exceptional career lasts fifteen years at top wages, and then you have to find something else to do for the next 50 plus years of your life. So earning the most you can is important.
Even the “revelation” he is retiring from representative football can be seen in this light: an attempt to maximise his value at club level and a bet that guaranteeing an extra 100k a year in his deal until he’s in his mid 30s is better for him than a hope he gets that he occasionally gets 30k from a random origin game. This seems a smart bet when one thinks that between Teddy, Trellmit and Tommy, Stephen Crichton and others I can’t think of right now will be fight for his positions for years to come. And while Jack may not be the most strategic cat in town, his agent will continue to shop him around town to make sure that whatever decision he makes, the 8 percent that comes his way makes the work worth it.
I would tentatively take this as good news for Raiders fans. While it’s a blanket attempt to draw out bigger offers from other clubs, Canberra will almost certainly offer the most money. 4 years at $1.1 is probably more than the competition (i.e. the ‘Phins) would go, both in money and length. So if the decision matrix includes ‘get that cash’ then the Milk is where the honey is.
The second thing Jack did was seek to reassure a fan base that he was worth supporting. He did it in his statements about ‘not wanting to go anywhere’ and in his statements around his love for the club:
I absolutely love the boys at the Raiders, [chief executive Don Furner] and Ricky [Stuart]. I owe them a lot – I’ve got a lot of love for them and respect.This club’s given me everything and I’ve given my all to this club too. This has always been home, the club I love and I always will love and I’ll forever be a Raider no matter the outcomeJack to the Hon David Polkinghorne CT
It struck me as someone who’s noticed the rancour that his decision to ‘go have a look’ has caused among the fan base and is dealing with a surprisingly level of ‘it he doesn’t like getting paid millions to be here then he can f*ck right off’. This sentiment has been surprisingly common for a long time star of the club, a player that won the club’s first Dally-M, Clive Churchill and scored their only grand final try in near 30 years. The love of a fan base can be capricious, and when you perform like he did against the Dragons, it is a taste of the scrutiny he’ll get every week whether he stays or goes.
All we can do at the moment is take these statements at face value. These declarations make me think that if Antony Green was standing in front of you right now with a needle telling you whether the booth from Bruce is in, he’d definitely say ‘it’s too early to call but it’s favouring a Canberra retain ever so slightly.’ But then you see how he poor he played on Sunday and it’s hard not to start wondering if decisions have been made and he’s just struggling to come to terms with being the bad guy. And then you think all the things his management have been doing to gin up cash are for external sources. Canberra has offered him all the money, and there’s been little response.
I hope Jack stays. Most people will see that million dollar number and think it could be better spent elsewhere. But as we said with Joe, and with Josh, Canberra does not simply walk into
Mordor the free agent market. We either overpay for our own stars, or other people’s projects. For some reason people outside Canberra aren’t as into the laksa at the Dickson Noodle House as they should be. Shame. But if you felt otherwise after Sunday no one would blame you.
Unfortunately whatever way this process goes it doesn’t feel like it will be a quick one. Wighton said as much. Donnie Furns’ decision to plant a flag won’t speed up the process as it forces clubs that want Jack to make decisions about their own caps before they make an offer. If he’s going, the longer it takes is both a bad sign and a potential for him to change his mind. We’ll just have to keep reading tea-leaves and waiting. Let’s hope the fog over Jack lifts, and we get to see the best of him. Even if its just as a goodbye.
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All due respect and appreciation of Jack,however, at this level there shouldn’t be sentimentality.
Truth is that the best is in the past..& playing Jack in his preferred no.6 is an indulgence that Canb is paying for.
In a post match press conference Ricky said that the more time that Jack had the ball in his hands was best for the team- not true
Canb have moved into a bad place where the coach has too much power at a time when Ricky’s coaching seems stuck in playback mode
though,he’s played a good business plan and has cemented his place…all about taking care of business
Alright for those in the inner circle
Stars can be made on the back of success-fading stars usually dim over time