The departure of Brad Fittler as New South Wales coach may have paved the way for Jack Wighton to make a stunning State of Origin backflip, after retiring from rep footy last year. That's according to league reporters Brent Read and Michael Chammas, who suggest a falling out between the former Blues coach and his star centre may have been behind the 30-year-old's decision.
Speculation has ramped up across the NRL world that Wighton is seriously considering going back on his retirement call and making himself available to new Blues coach Michael Maguire, who was handed the reins after the departure of Fittler. The Daily Telegraph has reported those close to Wighton believe the former Canberra Raiders star is considering a huge backflip that would put him in contention to make an 11th Origin appearance for the Blues.
Wighton - who will line up for South Sydney this season after signing a four-year deal with the Rabbitohs - made himself unavailable for Fittler's Blues side in 2023. The 30-year-old said at the time that the decision was made with family and his club footy with the Raiders at the forefront of his mind.
With Fittler no longer in the Blues job after three series losses to Queensland in the last four years, Read and Chammas say Wighton's potential change of heart suggests there may have been a falling out between the player and coach. “I think there was suggestions even last year he might backflip on that decision, but now there’s been a change of coach,” Read said on the Footy Talk podcast.
“Does it just confirm he had the s***s with Brad Fittler?” Chammas questioned. To which Read replied: “If he backflips it probably hints at it doesn’t it?" Wighton's relationship with Fittler may well have soured after he missed out on selection for the 2022 Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium - where was named 18th man in the Blues squad.
Wighton was the best player on the park for the Blues in a narrow loss in Game I at Accor Stadium but missed the second game after testing positive for Covid. In Wighton's absence, a new-look Blues centre combination of Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton helped inspire NSW to a stunning 44-12 win to leave the series delicately poised going into the decider.
Jack Wighton endured mixed 2022 Origin series
Veteran Aussie sports reporter Adam Peacock says the hurt of having to watch on from the sidelines as the Maroons beat NSW in Game III to clinch the series probably still burns for Wighton. However, Chammas says Fittler was justified in not wanting to change a winning formula after the Blues' resounding victory in Game II.
“In hindsight you say ‘yeah, you should have picked Jack Wighton’ but if you cast your mind back to that series he played Game I,” Chammas said. “They lost, he was outstanding by the way, probably NSW’s best player and then he gets Covid and misses Game II.
“They pick Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton in the centres and they win 44-12 or something, how do you (drop them)? If they pick him and go on to lose, then we say how do you change a winning team... if he played in that game and they lost we’d say why change a winning team.”
Wighton's potential backflip could be a relief to new Blues coach Maguire as he looks to build a squad capable of breaking the Maroons' two-year reign in the Origin arena. Billy Slater is set to lead the Maroons into his third series and will be looking to create history, while Maguire has already indicated the NSW squad could be set for a shake-up and players won't be picked on reputations or past performances.
Maguire is set to meet with up to 40 potential Blues players for the 2024 series as he looks to stamp his own mark on the squad. Players like captain James Tedesco are no certainty to be selected for the news series with Maguire given the task of reigniting the Blues squad. If Wighton is to make himself available, the Rabbitohs could be looking at a host of players missing club footy during the period with Cameron Murray, Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook, Campbell Graham and Cody Walker all in contention to be selected again.
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