Goodbye Jack Wighton


The Canberra Raiders offered Jack Wighton everything. The keys to the side. All the money they could. Protection. Pampering. Camaraderie. Sticky publicly coddled him at every opportunity. The club defended him whenever he did the wrong thing. And it turns out none of it was enough to keep him in town.

Jack gave everything he had for the Raiders. He tore into contact like a brave warrior. He turned games on their head by doing something anyone could do, laying a massive hit, chasing a kick, tearing through a defensive line, only he seemed to make them happen through sheer blinkered willpower. For 14 years he played like an angry Yogi, somehow matching a stoicism (and sometimes obliviousness) to game situation or pressure while also playing like the opposition had John Wick’d his dog. Now it seems he’s decided he was sick of being the focal point of everything. Sick of the hard road. He wanted the good life under a sombrero of talent only available to certain clubs.

And now he’s chosen South Sydney (as reported by Danny Weidler). A less challenging job on the football field. An easier path to a premiership. The bright lights of the big city and a club to match.

Most Canberra fans will fall somewhere crestfallen and furious, admittedly a wide range. Jack has never been the best at any one thing but there are few players that are as good as the range of things he is. He can play at so many positions that we’ve spent more time than anything arguing about which one of them is best (the answer ended being ‘the one where he gets the ball a lot’). The mixture of attacking skill with the defensive instincts of a rhino with an anger problem, it’s not something you can replicate. That’s a distinctive mix.

This unique combination is what has made Wighton so fascinating to watch. He could do everything, and sometimes it was the wrong thing, then the right thing, all in the same game. Sometimes it was the same play. People will have their favourite memories of Jack, so many of them streaking through an attack, laying a hit, or even the scoring of the Raiders first grand final try in the NRL era. There are too many great moments for the club to name them all here. But what will always stick out to me was that when the Milk needed something special it was so often him that would deliver.

The random preliminary final try in 2019, testament to the fact he didn’t even know what he was doing as he was doing it, but was good enough to react. Plus we all learned what a ‘gait’ was. Or the brilliant 15 minutes in the 2020 final against the Sharks, when with the game in the balance he scored twice in five minutes, once by taking a quick tap through a scrambled defence, and then by flying through the air to snare the ball off a George Williams kick, somehow landing and scoring without hurting himself. There’s probably still a dent where he landed in the Bruce Stadium turf.

The funny thing about Jack is that he mixed this brilliance with less frequent mind-numbing errors and it contributed to this feeling that he was always nine-tenths of who he might be. Even at the top of his game, winning Clive Churchill’s and Dally M’s, he still felt flawed. It still felt like there was another bit of his game that he hadn’t found. When Jack spoke recently to the Canberra Times he said that for the first time in his career he was looking around. Perhaps he was taking stock, realising that Canberra would always be the safe option, but perhaps there was something more. A way to find that extra piece of his game.

That’s why a departure to the Dolphins made more sense to my heart. He wanted to go to the best coach, to a new environment, and prove to himself that the extra bit could be found. Maybe there Jack would finally find that little something that turns him from a Canberra great to a rugby league legend. Instead he’s chosen the easy path – a fourth option in a side that is a contender without him. It’s a poor man’s Kevin Durant if Kevin Durant found it easier to break a halves will than nail a jumper.

The stories about family and lifestyle proved to be the mutterings of managers trying to find reasons to keep clubs interested. All the rumours you heard that made us so sympathetic to a move to make things easier and better with his were just talk. Talking heads talked in circles and coded language of ‘a lot going on in his life’, and now Jack has decided the bright lights of the big city are where his family need to be. I genuinely hope he’s right.

We’ve said this before but it represents such a bad sign for the league. The language of Jack’s departure is an acknowledgement of a top heavy league and an administration with no idea of how to address it. There are apparently four or five teams that can win the chip, and they’ve won near 80 per cent of the premierships of the NRL era. The salary cap, while not ‘broken’ like idiots like Phil Gould will tell you, is obviously insufficient. I’m sympathetic to the idea of letting people go where they want, but when that is the same four or five places it’s a equity problem for the league, and a problem for the longevity of it.

But more selfishly it’s such a kick in the sack for the club. Missing out on David Fifita was depressing, but then we could wave it away with a ‘we don’t sign free agents’. Well now we don’t retain our own players either. There’s more cash to splash around but if no one will take it what’s the point? Is all we can do wait for a magical crop of talent inexplicably to be found at the same time of history, in this part of the country, localized entirely within the Raiders pathways? Sometimes buying a lotto ticket feels more optimistic. Canberra can go back to searching in the hidden pockets of the world, but even if we do find that talent it’s just an interested call from a bigger club and either our cap space is gone or the player is. Hu-fucking-zzah.

But that’s not Jack’s problem. He’s just a symptom of it. Instead we’ll remember him as that nine-tenths of brilliance. That flawed genius. The man who had nearly everything. Who nearly took them the whole way. Who nearly spent his whole career at Canberra. Until he didn’t. I’ll miss him, and the Raiders will be worse off without him. But if the Dragons game taught us anything it’s that leaving Canberra is something that tore at him, muddied his head, and maybe even distracted a man famed for being unperturbed by the troubles of overthinking. This is a man who did not want to leave but also couldn’t stay. I just wish he chose a more noble path. But then Jack never did get it right all the time. That’s part of what made him so fascinating to watch.

Goodbye Jack you beautifully flawed man. I hope this works out for you, because it worked out for us.

Do us a solid and like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media, and we can mope about Jack Wighton together. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback ( or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.


  1. SouFFs could not sign one player for 2023 because of no salary cap room. So how many players are shown the door for 2024 to raise the 900k.


  2. This is an opportunity to showcase how to treat players past,present & future
    An opportunity to elevate talent
    Don’t reach for the chequebook/
    Instill confidence & camaraderie/show the players some faith
    Canberra isn’t that bad a place to spend some time !
    If you have to pay someone a premium to come you’re chasing the wrong person
    Become a club players want to come to..forget about buying a Premiership.


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