Raiders star Jack Wighton had a lot to play for in Friday’s 24-19 win over the Sharks and he didn’t disappoint.
Wighton was celebrating his 200th NRL game and his coach Ricky Stuart set the mood early in an emotional tribute to the five-eighth.
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“We mentioned it yesterday, over his last 50 games he’s won a Dally M and Clive Churchill (medal). Unfortunately (we were) unlucky in a grand final, so he’s done a lot,” Stuart told Fox League.
“He’s had some lows too. He’s been dropped out of the Australian team, or rep teams, or he’s bounced his way back in. One thing is, he’s a fighter and he’s got all their backs out there as they’ve got his.”
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Wighton knew the assignment as he crossed in the eighth minute for the opening try of the night. The 29-year-old continued to carve up for the Raiders in the opening half as he notched up 70 running metres, a linebreak assist and a tackle bust.
“Well first half has always been about Jack, scored the first try 200th game, and he has been outstanding in the first half,” Fox League expert Cooper Cronk said.
“That man right there has been astronomical, he has been big and strong.”
Despite a second half comeback by the Sharks, the Raiders escaped with the two points after a Hudson Young try in the final four minutes to seal a 24-19 win.
Wighton finished the game with a try, 101 running metres, two tackle busts, a linebreak assist, an offload and 17 tackles with two missed.
“He stood out by a mile,” Benji Marshall said.
“His energy… and you talked about it in the pre-game about his physicality, getting into the contest and how aggressive he was with his defence. He just led the way with little parts of his game.
“I thought it was one of the best games I’ve seen him play in a long time.”
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Wighton rose to new heights in 2019, making his NSW debut and being awarded the Clive Churchill Medal despite the Raiders going down to the Roosters in the grand final.
He continued on with that same form the following season and claimed the Dally M medal.
But when the Raiders struggled in 2021, so did Wighton.
Despite his Dally M season, Ricky Stuart believes the best is yet to come for Wighton whilst also shedding light on last year’s poor performances.
“I still think Jack’s best football is in front of him, everyone wants to be the analyst on Jack’s last season,” Stuart said.
“But when you look at who you got, we had five fullback last year and I have said this regularly… we had disruption at seven and Hodgo (Hodgson) in and out, we had Tommy (Starling) in and out.
“Doesn’t matter who you are as a six or a seven, that is too hard, we had so many ones, we had no stability or cohesion and it is bloody hard as a six or a seven.
“Stability and cohesion is very important.”
Fans will be hoping Wighton is on track to return to the blistering form that earned him the highest honours.
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