Jack Wighton is ready to line up against Johnathan Thurston in round one. Photo: Rohan ThomsonUltimate League: It’s not too late to sign up for our Fantasy NRL game Raiders rookies ready to roll in TownsvillePapalii ready to bring down old teammatesThurston, Morgan face nervous night against Raiders
Australian rugby league great Brad Fittler says Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is taking a big risk partnering Terry Campese and Jack Wighton as an untested NRL halves combination, but believes the gamble will be worth it.
Fittler, who started his career in the centres and made the successful transition to a premiership-winning five-eighth, is a huge fan of Wighton and said the 21-year-old was a future NSW representative who would not be intimidated by the move to No.6.
But Fittler said it was a risk shifting Campese and Wighton at the same time, given neither have played a match in the halves together.
Campese and Wighton will combine for the first time in Saturday night’s season opener, against the North Queensland Cowboys and one of the world’s great halves, Johnathan Thurston.
”I do find the fact he’s playing outside a halfback who’s not really a halfback [Campese] is going to be the one difficult thing,” Fittler said of Wighton’s switch.
”It’s untried at the moment and it’s a big risk, no doubt. But it’s a good time to take a risk, and you’re taking a risk with two quality players. The hardest thing to adjust to is nailing the opportunities when they come. If there’s 10 minutes left and you need a try, the team is looking at you to step up and your decisions become crucial.
”He [Wighton] won’t shy away from it.”
When Fittler first met Wighton at a NSW Emerging Camp, the main thing he noted was a quietly confident kid who believed in himself.
”I’ve come across him and always had a big rap on him,” Fittler said.
”The one thing I noticed is he feels he belongs straight away, so that’s half the battle over. He’s not intimidated by anyone.”
Wighton has played almost every position in the back line and Fittler said he was a Blues representative in waiting.
Fittler also believes the modern game’s more structured style makes the transition from out wide to the halves much easier.
”I think there’s a little bit less thought involved now, which can be the most demanding thing for a young guy,” Fittler said.
”Watching Dylan Walker [for Souths on Thursday night] who played most of his previous football at centre, the five-eighth style of play is a bit different and easier.
”A lot of the time now it’s more structured, that’s when you hope your natural game can come into it and I’m sure Jack’s very good at that.”
Wighton has been compared by Stuart to Raiders legend Laurie Daley, who this week urged fans to be patient with Wighton’s progress.
Daley’s own move from the centres to five-eighth was made easier by the fact he had star halfback Stuart inside him and Kangaroos captain Mal Meninga at centre.
”I was fairly lucky. I was probably the less dominant player in our team with [fullback] Gary Belcher and Ricky and [hooker] Steve Walters,” Daley said.
”They were dominant personalities and spoke to the team, I could concentrate on my own game more than most young guys can.
”Jack’s a running five-eighth and he may have to adjust to knowing when to run and when to pass.
”But right now his strength is to run and he shouldn’t neglect that part of his game.
”The rest will come over time, and if Campo plays more of an on-ball role that would certainly help him settle in.”
Parramatta’s Brett Kenny made his debut as a centre in 1980 before shifting to five-eighth in 1981, guiding the Eels to three straight premierships and forging one of the great halves partnerships with Peter Sterling.
Kenny said Wighton’s apprenticeship out wide would be a ”big advantage” in his positional switch.
”Playing in centres gave me an idea of what I was looking for from the guys there, and what they needed from me at five-eighth,” Kenny said.
”It does give you a big advantage, experiencing what the guys outside you are going through because you’ve done it yourself.”