Let’s get straight to the pressing matter at South Sydney: Jack Wighton‘s impending arrival. Will he be a catalyst for controversy or a solution-finder, as he links up with his mates Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker at the Rabbitohs next season? Wighton exhibits as much enthusiasm and determination off the field as on it, raising questions on his compatibility with a team already weathering the Storm of Sam Burgess‘ unexpected departure and allegations of preferential treatment towards Mitchell and Walker.
On Saturday, as Wighton gets ready for his parting match with the Raiders against the Broncos, the queries swirling around about how he will gel with the Rabbitohs intensify. Sam Burgess‘ alleged clash with Jason Demetriou, reportedly over diminishing standards, is adding to the simmering tensions within the team. Some suggest Wighton’s induction might exacerbate this emotional turmoil that seems to already be splitting the squad.
Audaciously rejecting a hefty $4 million offer to stay with Canberra, Wighton chose less cash in favour of stronger ties over a four-year stint with the Rabbitohs. This decision was significantly influenced by his friendship with Mitchell and Walker, the Indigenous stars he shares a special connection with. However, relatively unknown is Wighton’s good relationship with Rabbitoh leaders Cam Murray and Campbell Graham, whom he bonded with during the Kangaroos’ World Cup run last year.
Wighton could emerge as the ideal peace-maker, bridging the purported segregations that appear to centre on Walker and Mitchell. Will he incite discord or mend rifts?
Wighton’s sterling reputation of being a tough coach who doesn’t tolerate mediocrity could benefit the Rabbitohs. However, his own history of controversies in Canberra, including a police run-in involving Mitchell at his 30th birthday, teeters the scales. While both have pleaded not guilty to charges from an alleged fight outside a Canberra nightclub, this issue remains before the courts, with a three-day hearing scheduled for October 30.
Adding to the mix, an upcoming court case will draw more attention than Wighton’s relocation to Sydney, where the focus on him will be much more severe compared to his time in Canberra.
Did the club get their money’s worth?
The potential irony isn’t lost on Souths fans, as Adam Reynolds was offered a temporary deal over concerns about his age and durability. However, Wighton, soon to be 31 years old and already set up with a rewarding four-year agreement to close out 2027, throws a curveball.
Since parting with Souths, 33-year-old Reynolds has played a vital role in lifting the Broncos from the ashes and is negotiating an extension beyond 2024. Souths releasing Reynolds could well be one of their biggest regrets, especially if the Broncos succeed on the road to the Grand Final.
Wighton has his own battles.
Despite the rampant headlines about Mitchell’s performer decline, Wighton’s own struggles at Raiders haven’t drawn as much attention. There’s no denying that his sportsmanship, that earned him the 2019 Clive Churchill Medal, has been largely absent this season.
The four-year contract with Rabbitohs, where Wighton might well fit better in the centres than his current position at five-eighth, increasingly seems like a risky venture particularly when compared to the contentious retention decision about Reynolds.
Nevertheless, after 14 years with the Raiders, Wighton would certainly wish to make a grand exit. As the Rabbitohs grapple with internal disturbances and face the crucial final round against the Roosters, the Raiders too fish in troubled waters; a loss to the Broncos would thrust them into a survival face-off with the Sharks.