A couple of years ago I was standing at the base of the stairs leading up to the Mal Meninga Stand. You know the area at Canberra Stadium. It’s where the statues of Meninga and Laurie Daley stand on either side.
A young boy, decked from head to foot in Raiders colours, asked his father about the Daley sculpture. He began with “Who was he?” and continued with many more questions while admiring the bronze sculpture.
Given Laurie Daley retired in 2000 and the young boy in question was about 10 years old, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see first-hand the influence Daley had on virtually every game he played for the Raiders.
Mind you, Daley had plenty of support with Bradley Clyde at lock, Ricky Stuart at half and Mal Meninga in the centres.
If that young boy had asked the same question today, I think I would have suggested that he watch Jack Wighton’s performances at Canberra Stadium this season to gain some understanding of Laurie Daley’s importance to the team.
Against the Sharks and the Gold Coast, Wighton single-handedly dragged his side to victory bringing back memories of Daley at his best in the 1980s and 90s.
And Wighton did it with an untested spine. He had a new halfback in Brad Schneider and a new hooker in Matt Frawley, before Tom Starling came on to play a starring role.
The similarities between Wighton and Daley are not confined to their on-field performances only. Both are from country NSW – Daley from Junee and Wighton from Orange. Both are enormously proud of their Aboriginal heritage.
Daley’s playing weight was 92 kilos while Wighton is about 95 kilos.
Both started in the centres before moving to five-eighth. Both take on the line and both are damaging defenders with an incredible will to win.
The difference, of course, is Daley’s consistency over 244 games and the calibre of players around him.
Wighton, on the other hand, has played 202 games, winning the Dally M and Clive Churchill Medal along the way.
Last season the Raiders used five different fullbacks, forcing Wighton to adopt a different role in almost every game. This season already, through only three rounds, there has been plenty of disruption with injuries to halfback Jamal Fogarty and hooker Josh Hodgson.
Coach Ricky Stuart highlighted this factor after the win against the Gold Coast.
“When so many people wanted to criticise Jack, bag the hell out of him, that he had five different fullbacks last year, he had a number of different combinations at halfback and hooker,” Stuart said.
“I don’t care if you’re Jonathon Thurston or Andrew Johns, you can’t play to your capabilities.”
Despite the setbacks, the Raiders have won two of three this season. The one constant element has been the performance of Wighton.
But to be like Daley, Wighton will need to keep these performances going, week in week out.
He has shown that he is more than capable of rising to the occasion.