4 May 2023

A week that the Raiders and Wighton will not forget

| Tim Gavel
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Jack Wighton crying after an NRL game

At the end of an emotional week, Jack Wighton breaks down after an interview with Fox Sports. Image: Screenshot (Fox Sports).

It is hard to quantify the emotional energy expended by the Raiders in Saturday’s one-point win over the Dolphins in Wagga Wagga.

Jack Wighton sunk to his haunches after conducting an on-field interview with Fox Sports with tears in his eyes.

Wighton was emotionally spent after making the most significant decision of his footballing career thus far in deciding to leave the Raiders for the Rabbitohs at the end of the season.

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Last week I questioned the decision given the support provided to Wighton over the years by the Raiders.

It is one thing to question why he was going, which is fair enough for supporters who are emotionally invested in the club, but Wighton was racially abused online as questions swirled about his motives for leaving the club he joined as a 16 year old.

In the cold hard light of day, taking emotion out of the argument, the situation becomes clearer.

Wighton, after all, has simply made a career decision in a similar fashion to the way all of us make career decisions, but in this case, everybody had a point of view.

His reaction and body language was akin to a player retiring or victorious following a major game, not after a round nine against the Dolphins.

The Wagga Wagga crowd at the beginning of an enthralling game against the Dolphins. Photo: Supplied.

The Wagga Wagga crowd at the beginning of an enthralling game against the Dolphins. Photo: Supplied.

In the lead-up to the Dolphins game, Wighton and the club indicated that his decision to sign with Souths, although difficult, had little impact on his preparations or mindset.

Both were quick to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims as reasons for his departure.

In the end, it would appear that he simply wanted a change after spending all of his adult life so far at the one club.

Whatever the reasons for his decision, it had been a week many at the club will never forget.

Jack Wighton. Photo: File.

Jack Wighton’s contribution to the win over the Dolphins at Wagga Wagga helped ease the pressure he faced following his decision to move to Souths. Photo: File.

Less than 15 minutes after Wighton had been overwhelmed by the build-up of emotion through the week, coach Ricky Stuart choked up in the post-game media conference when talking about the departure of his star player.

Like Wighton, Stuart had kept his emotions in check publicly until that point. The end of the game must have felt as if the pressure had been alleviated.

Who can blame them? All involved at the club, particularly Stuart and Wighton, must have felt absolutely spent when that ball finally sailed between the posts for a golden point win.

There’s no doubt the entire episode was a distraction, but footballers have shown time and time again that they have the ability to put off-field issues to one side for the duration of a game.

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What will be interesting now is to see how much energy was sapped from the playing group through last week’s events.

But the pressure felt within the Raiders group last week was facilitated by the NRL’s player transfer system.

The transfer system allows players to negotiate with other clubs a year before their current contract finishes, with a deadline of 1 November. This means that negotiations can begin very early in the season.

There is considerable debate about the transfer system at present. The system has pros and cons depending on the circumstances of the club and the player involved.

But the Jack Wighton episode clearly demonstrates the upheaval and pressure it can place on a club, the player group and the individual player involved. Either way, this sort of pressure should not have been put on the Raiders during the season.

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