Many an eyebrow was raised when Coach Ricky Stuart selected Jack Wighton at fullback for the first time in his blossoming NRL career, but one man had every bit of confidence that the precocious talent from Orange would be able to handle the challenge.
Recruitment Manager David Hamilton was the Raiders NYC Coach in 2010 when he decided to blood a 17 year old Wighton in the game’s premier Under 20’s competition.
Wighton had starred for the club’s SG Ball side at five-eighth however Hamilton handed the Australian Schoolboy representative the number one jersey for his debut in the NYC against the Gold Coast Titans at GIO Stadium Canberra.
Whilst Wighton was admittedly a “nervous wreck” before the match having never played fullback before, he certainly didn’t show it, delivering a Man of the Match performance which netted him four spectacular tries.
“He was pretty nervous that day because he had never played fullback before but I knew he would be fine,” Hamilton said. “It was his first game in the NYC and he ended up scoring four tries. I thought he would do well, but not that well!
“I’d been excited about him for a while and although he hadn’t played fullback before I thought it would be a good way to blood him into our side, which was fairly handy at the time with McIlwrick, Vaughan and Williams in it.
“He is such a competitor and is so naturally talented that I knew he’d be able to handle himself in the position. I wasn’t concerned at all.
“He played six in the juniors and in our SG Ball side that year and he played like a second five-eighth. Jacko had always been a fantastic ball runner and he proved that on the day but there were other facets of his play that caught my eye also. For such a young kid he had great game awareness. I remember him calling for a kick from Sammy Williams and Sammy put it on the spot and Jack soared above and collected it on the full.
“He was outstanding.”
Although he didn’t score four tries like he did in his debut in the NYC, Wighton made a good fist of the fullback role in his first outing in the number one jersey in the top grade against the Sharks.
Wighton ran for a game-high 181 metres and broke more tackles than any other play on the field with eight. He also threw in a scything line-break and a handy offload for good measure.
“Jack is so versatile and naturally talented that he can play anywhere in the backline, hell, he could even play in the forwards if need be but you wouldn’t want to lose his attacking spark,” Hamilton said.
“It’s Ricky’s call but I think that if he puts his mind to it he can be a success in the number one jersey. I still think that he can be a very good five-eighth in the future and playing fullback will eventually help him out in that position.”
The man himself, whilst admittedly happy to play wherever Stuart selects him in the backline, is looking to use his selection at fullback as an audition for 2015.
“I’ve played every position in the backline now so I’m still trying to find my spot I guess,” Wighton chuckled.
“I’m happy to play anywhere that Ricky puts me but I’m definitely putting up my hand for fullback. Even though it was a big change I really liked playing there and if I had a few more games there I think I could pick my game up a bit more.
“My first game in the Under 20’s I played at fullback and that has been the only other time I’ve played there and the experience was much the same last week.
“It’s a different job; you’ve always got to be on the ball in attack and following the ball in defence and telling people where to go. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I was out on my feet a few times but I suppose that will get better with practice.
“It’s good to throw my hat in the ring for next year.”
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