The Risk of Replacing Jack Wighton


Jack Wighton is leaving and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s frustrating, especially given since he made the decision his form seems to have improved. The degree to which Jack and the Raiders have thrived together recently is a reminder to them all of the magnitude of what has occurred. The size of that task will not be surprising to Don Furner and Ricky Stuart. There’s some big decisions facing them to find a solution to filling the hole that Jack has left.

This challenge has to be solved within the parameters of the reality in which the Raiders operate. That means banking on signing Joey Manu is probably a step too far. As any green blooded fan knows the Milk have to look where others won’t. That means overseas. It also means the edges of other teams rosters, finding players stuck behind big names and desperate for first grade time. And it means investing in their own pathways and trusting they can turn potential into reality.

While they seem like a series of narrow pathways to success there are actually surprising large number of options out there. In fact this plethora of options has led people to a veritable bursting at the seams in suggestions. Some of it is the nature of now having a truckload of cash to spend. Every journalist/person with a platform has got takes on who the Raiders should sign. Most of these are contextless. They don’t consider what is needed, the likelihood of them taking the deal, or who would actually be the *best* candidate. Jack Welsby appears alongside Luke Brooks alongside Josh Schuster like these things are all the same.

Part of the reason anyone can be on this list is that Canberra can afford anyone. With so many players unsigned for next year, their most expensive player not coming back, and the 900k they theoretically had for David Fifita available, there’s not really a limit on their market. There’s also a spatial element to this. the Raiders look everywhere and anywhere for talent, so stars, English halves, Cup footy players, blokes down the pub who distribute pints well, any of them can be a Raider, you just have to believe hard enough be happy to live in Canberra. Ngunnawal country may be some of the most beautiful on earth, but it doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Canberra may be able to afford everyone but it doesn’t mean that they can get everyone (or even most people). It does mean however that a lot of names get bandied around that are unrealistic. Sam Walker is going to be the future of the Roosters, no matter how much of a pop-up media industry has sprung up around trying to shift him around the league. Similarly Joey Manu will likely be playing alongside him, either at 6 or 4 depending on how Sydney City want to use him. Ben Hunt said he doesn’t want his coaching mate to get fired and that he doesn’t want change. He has a deal in place until end 2025 and I’d be surprised if in old age he went for a colder climate. Any of those players would be brilliant, but the likelihood of it happening is so small the pursuit would bring with it an untenable opportunity cost.

When it comes to players that Canberra might actually get, the key question facing the Raiders is what risk and when. Do you want the discipline and money risk of Josh Schuster? I cannot tell if he’s being pushed or pulled out of Manly. He’s on a lot of cash (800k) and is not willing to work for it now. Is he one of those players that needs to move to a big country town and rediscover his love for footy? Even Obama thinks that requires too much hope. Maybe he puts it together. But at 800k a year you can’t be maybe.

Or would you prefer to choose from players like Blake Taaffe, Jonah Pezet or their own Brad Schneider, all of whom are undoubtedly talented but would require making a bet based on a limited amount of certainty. Any three would need to be given a long deal, and the keys to the future of Canberra. Are you sure about them? I would presume they’d at least come cheap (for a half at least. I presume Taaffe and Pezet would require not small investments to get them to come to town). Pezet in particular comes with the tagline built by Bellamy, which given how Nicho Hynes is going suggests a bet worth taking.

Then you can combine the cost and uncertainty angles and to it the peril that comes with shopping in England. That’s a real test of cajones for the Milk. Going back to what well, with contract negotiations, transfer fees and the uncertainty that comes with signing players based on their performance on a competition that sits closer to NSW Cup than NRL, is risky business. But there might be value there. Jack Welsby and Lewis Dodd are both contracted beyond this season but keep being names that are chucked up as potential options.

Welsby is my preference. He feels more like a point-of-difference in attack, incredibly comfortable with the kind of decisions NRL attacking shapes tend to ask of five-eighths. He’s young, contracted until the end of 2025, and would take a transfer fee that would give Don Furner heart palpitations. Dodd actually reminds me of a left footed Jamal Fogarty, which would give us a very balanced attack, but again would require a big risk (and a big transfer fee) for a player that may not move the needle massively.

Or you can go down the ‘experience’ path of a Luke Brooks, Mitchell Pearce, or whatever other mess is searching for one last pay job before shuffling off to pasture. Sometimes it works out for the Raiders (see Jason Smith). Sometimes it goes full Matt Orford.

Embracing uncertainty and risk might be a change of path for Stuart and Furner. It’s rare they’ve put big money down on any player that hadn’t already performed for the club. That has ensured a certain standard of outcome and output has been met. But the safe approach is a risk in itself. Only some teams can go and sign stars for 300k under market rate, and Canberra isn’t one of them. They’ll need to roll the dice on their Jack Wighton replacement. Let’s hope they roll a six.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can however like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or share this on social media. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback ( or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not

One comment

  1. So, out of left field and I’ve given this lots of thought and will probably be howled done by most of the greenhouse. We have Chevy Stuart in NSW Cup, apparently a gun full back but could debut in 2024. Xav can’t crack the team at the moment but I believe has all the skills to play 6. Fog has been great recently and will do until we find a new 7 & can do most kicking and organizing. Play Xav in NSW cup at 6 or put him at 1 in NRL and let him and Jack swap during games. Give him some ‘real’ skills coaching for 6 – invest in him. Toots has to go at the end of this year, no sentiment please – we”re here to win a comp.Kris has to go back to centre. Most other positions are covered. Please think about this and write it as your own. If you don’t agree, tell me why. Xav will go elsewhere soon if Ricky doesn’t put him in NRL.soon. Cheers, Peter


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