Rugby league discourse is full of clowns at the best of times. Cynical idiots expressing certitude based on rumours and messages given to them by people with vested interests. When a player with the status of Jack Wighton becomes it’s focus it can become a circus. This week the Raiders and Wighton are bringing that circus to Wagga.
As of writing Jack Wighton appears undecided about his future. Or at least there’s so much noise around that whatever he is doing is something aware to him, possibly the team he’s going to, and not many other people. People on the TV, on your favourite social media platform, probably around your work kitchenette will express more certitude about his future than I can possibly fathom. Are you even sure Jack knows what Jack is doing?
For the most part the Raiders were able to avoid the mess while on the bye but it gets harder from here. Not only are the back in the week-to-week of the NRL media cycle, but they’re also coming up against one of Jack’s suitors. For all we know he may be going to the Dolphins. He also may not be playing for either of these sides next year. Either way a lot of eyes will be on him, the Milk, and a game that would normally escape anyone’s attention (outside from me and you).
Given how he’s handled that in his last two outings the most immediate question (apart from where he’s going) is whether he can handle the noise. Since he announced his exploratory committee he’s played one game where he spent seventy minutes trying to get suspended and ten minutes watching because he eventually succeeded. Then he turned in his worst game against the Dragons ever, which given his history literally losing games for the Raiders against them is quite an achievement.
I said in these pages that it’s hard to ascribe performance to his mindset but it’s also naïve to look at those two games and assume the cow chewing cud in Jack’s brain isn’t a little bit distracted. If there was one thing you could always guarantee from him it was effort. Sometimes that was the problem. He was trying *too* hard. Wanting to do *too* much. To force success when he didn’t have the faculties to manifest it. And that was probably the case in the Knights game. But against the Dragons he seemed almost ambivalent, unavailable.
How the Raiders handle this will be of the utmost interest and importance. They need to win. That’s where the season is at. It may feel silly to talk about when so much existential noise is surrounding them but right now there’s 8 teams pushing for the 8 and Canberra need to stay part of that group. Winning is the best way through this mud.
It’s curious for a team to try to succeed *despite* the player that has the most influence (or at least attacking touches) over their performance. When so much of rugby league is built on a series of cogs forming a functioning machine, how do keep the contraption working when one prong is playing like he’d had too much to drink. In the Dragons game it was Hudson Young and Jamal Fogarty that took the keys from his drunk hands, pushed him into the back seat and got the car home. He still leapt forward at one point to drag the wheel into the gutter, but a few scratches aside, everyone ended up at the right home.
That’s not an option they’ll have in this game. The ‘Phins have impressively taken on the identity that Wayne Bennett has fostered in sides for decades. They refuse to beat themselves, instead waiting on their enemy to make a fatal error. If Wighton goes ‘full Dragons’ Fogs or Huddo may not get their hands on the wheel until the cops have whipped out the booze kazoo. Similarly the ‘Phins chased down a 26 point deficient after 26 minutes with time to spare last game. The next time the Raiders score 26 will be a first this season.
If there’s a mercy it’s that he might be close to a decision. It’s hard to say ‘reports’ when everyone but Jack (and maybe Jack) has less knowledge of the situation than a virgin with a willing partner. But views have emerged this week that he’s told (indicated? intimated? implied?) both the Raiders and Souths that he was ready to sign on. Jason Demetriou seemed unaware they were in the hunt until James Hooper reported it as effectively done. Then after meeting with Jack this weekend he said the ball is in Wighton’s court. Wayne Bennett put big(ger) money on the table and said simply they’d bought themselves a place in the conversation.
The situation is unresolved and the uncertainty is a challenge. The bright lights don’t often shine on Canberra but now they’re trained there like they’re looking for a criminal. The Green Machine went to the bye with a challenge of building an offensive structure and resolve that would normally take an offseason to construct. Instead they’ve had a week hearing all manner of reports, including the ongoing implication that *this* squad is not good enough. It’s one thing to hear that from the media, but when the message comes from in the tent then everyone gets splashed. It’s hard to build a siege mentality when someone is going full Denethor.
Get your seat and your popcorn out if you’ve got the stomach for it. Whatever happens over this week will come with noise and lights and dancing bears (I presume). The Raiders will be trying to succeed despite it all. That will take some doing.
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