One of the great mysteries, as we enter the 2019 pre-season, is the future of the Canberra Raiders.
A side that traditionally can tear any side apart on their day, the Raiders fell far too often in 2018 to really excite anyone outside of the Raiders most committed fans.
They’ve signed a few quality players, mainly Wigan stars John Bateman and Ryan Sutton, but no genuine game-breakers.
They’ve lost their most attacking half in Blake Austin while really failing to replace him with a ready-made, NRL quality number six.
There aren’t many sides coming into 2019 with questions in their halves, especially within the fancied clubs.
The Raiders are one of those sides. They have Aiden Sezer and Sam Williams who look like the most obvious of choices but it looks as though Ricky Stuart has a trick up his sleeve.
The signing of boom Warriors youngster Charnze Nicoll-Kloksad to play fullback in early 2019 looks as though it confirms what we’ve been hearing all off-season, that Jack Wighton will be moving into the play-making positions at five-eighth.
Full credit to Ricky Stuart, on the face, the 2018 Raiders + two forward signings – their star half and with an injured Rapana out for half the season, didn’t look like an outfit ready to push for finals footy.
Given their salary cap restraints, the Raiders had to take a risk from within their squad.
To move their only recognised fullback into the halves following a horror 2018 season … well, THAT is a risk to say the very least.
Straight off the bat, I’m all for the change. The Raiders can either plod away and hope Sam Williams is the answer, despite not being the answer for a few seasons now, or they can throw a risk out there and take a punt.
That said, the fullback position now moves to either a rookie, a journeyman, or a star winger who has failed to fire during his short time at fullback.
Sam Williams isn’t exactly the worst option either. He was the Raiders best at times last year when Blake Austin seemed to lose confidence.
So it looks as though the Green Machine will enter the trials with Wighton at six and either Williams or Sezer at seven.
Given the Raiders will start the season sans their number one try scorer for seemingly all of recent memory, the side starts on the back foot. They need to get off to a good start.
Do they really have time to sit back and wait while Jack Wighton re-learns the game in the number six jersey? This while placing full confidence in a 23-year-old with just seven games to his name.
Risky, but I like it.
With respect to Wighton, I see the Raiders punt as a far bigger one than with the Knights moving Ponga.
Ponga’s game is really based on being the third half in attack while Wighton is more of a running style fullback.
That’s not to say running five-eighths aren’t important in 2019, but the question remains in Canberra, where are the tries going to come from?
Wighton did have five try assists in his opening nine games in 2018 so maybe I’m worrying for nothing.
However, his 2017 season, in 23 games, delivered just nine try assists.
Obviously, a move into the halves will present a far better chance of putting players through gaps, or set up tries via the boot, but when I think of Wighton I don’t think of the likes of Turbo, Tedesco or Ponga ball-playing wise.
Then again, Ricky Stuart has a premiership to his name and a decade of coaching while I have a trophy for coaching an under 18’s soccer side to a premiership.
I’m excited by the idea of CNK coming into the side at fullback. He’s an excitement machine and looks ready to go booooom.
Wighton in the halves has its obvious upsides as well as its equally obvious risks.
If I’m a Canberra fan I’m glad that the potential risk is being taken. I can’t see this current Raiders set up pushing for the eight. If Wighton fires in the halves, who knows?
On paper, this shapes as a massive, season shaping, risk but in reality, I don’t really think the Raiders have much of a choice.
They need a spark in the halves and despite plenty of ability, Wighton is hardly bashing the Origin door down in the number one.
This is a move that could rocket the Raiders into an early season run, or it could be something we look back upon and wonder what Ricky Stuart was thinking.
I like it but I’d be really interested to hear what Raiders fans and the wider NRL fan base think.