The Canberra Raiders have got their NRL season off to a winning start, with a narrow victory over the Cronulla Sharks in the nation's capital on Friday evening.

In what was a true game of two halves, the green machine dominated field position and possession of the football during the first stanza, with the visitors struggling to get into the game against a team which was led by Jack Wighton in his 200th game.

The Sharks would hit back strongly throughout most of the second half, eventually hitting a field goal to take the lead, before a try to Hudson Young - sparked from a Jack Wighton pass - would put the Raiders back in front. Canberra then eventually held on by the slimmest of margins, including a late bunker scare, to take the chocolates.

The milestone game brought about a smooth and in control Wighton, who played what was arguably his best game of football since the end of 2020.

Wighton, who used that season to win the Dally M Medal, having led the Raiders to the grand final in 2019 before it, fell away in a big way during 2021 in a Raiders team who struggled for much of the year.

The departure of George Williams didn't help the Raiders in 2021, but the form of Wighton - who has played for New South Wales off the bench as a utility - was a constant talking point for coach Ricky Stuart's side heading into the 2021 season.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27: George Williams of the Raiders in action during the round three NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Warriors at GIO Stadium on March 27, 2021, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Stuart spoke with visible emotion ahead of the game when talking about his five-eighth, who has been through plenty, but the veteran coach also spoke of Wighton's maturity throughout the pre-season as he continues to grow as a leader at the club.

It was supposed to be the arrival of former Gold Coast Titan Jamal Fogarty who would help in the return of Wighton to his best form.

Fogarty's knee injury - which will rule him out for four months - meant young gun Brad Schneider was handed the spot next to Wighton in the halves, and left the star half to lead the team once again.

But unlike last year where Wighton was constantly caught slipping away from what might be considered his best, he was superb on Friday evening.

That was particularly so in the first half, but it wasn't just his running game. His control over the team, directional play and kicking game was all outstanding for much of the 80 minutes, but again, particularly in the first half as he guided the Raiders to a big early lead.

Wighton scored the first try of the game in a long-range effort, before playing a role in others, seemingly a danger everytime he got his hands on the football.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 06: Jack Wighton of the Raiders celebrates scoring a try during the 2019 NRL Grand Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

By the end of the game, Wighton had ran the football 15 times for 142 metres, while also kicking for 221 metres, leading that element of the game for the Raiders too.

The Raiders still have plenty of room for improvement - of that there is simply no doubt. Falling away in the second half with poor defence was a trend which followed them through most of the 2021 season, and it's one they will need to reverse in a hurry as they take on other top teams in the coming weeks.

Canberra are lumped with the Sea Eagles, Storm and Panthers inside the first eight weeks on their upcoming fixture list.

So while their second half defence needs to improve, and consistency can't yet be confirmed for Wighton, he has proven beyond all reasonable doubt on Friday evening that he will need to be the key if the green machine are going to go back to the finals, a spot they were supposed to be at last year but ended falling well short of.