Former Canberra Raiders fan favourite Jack Wighton has confirmed he's set to play at "left centre" with the Rabbitohs after agreeing to link up with good mate Latrell Mitchell for the upcoming NRL season. The 30-year-old had spent his entire career at the Raiders but made the bombshell decision midway through last season to join South Sydney on a four-year deal from 2024.
Wighton has played the majority of his career at five-eighth but with gun Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker occupying that position, it's widely expected he would partner Campbell Graham in the centres. The move is obviously tough on Isaiah Tass, who made the left centre position his own in 2023 after solid form there.
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Many around the NRL world have called for Wighton to replace Mitchell at fullback and shift the Bunnies' No.1 into the centres, where he has starred for NSW at State of Origin level. In an interview with foxsports.com.au though, Wighton revealed he had been playing at left centre with his new teammates during Rabbitohs pre-season training and is looking forward to combining with Mitchell and co. in a deadly South Sydney backline.
“I guess just trying to master the craft, just bring energy to the team and the little things I can do,” Wighton answered in response to a question about his role for 2024. “And I get to play outside Cody and Latrell (Mitchell) so I’m excited about that.
“Starting our sets and finishing our sets... Bringing the ball out of our own end and helping our boys get that roll-on that our middles and players like Latrell, Cody and ‘Cooky’ (Damien Cook) need. Then also finishing our sets, being the first one down there, trying to change the tide in defence too."
The 30-year-old - who announced his shock retirement from rep footy last year just before agreeing the Rabbitohs deal - will miss the first two games of the new season as he serves out the remainder of a four-game suspension. Wighton was banned for biting in Canberra's week one finals loss to the Knights last season, with the Indigenous vs Maori All Stars clash to count as one game in his suspension.
Wighton is also battling a calf injury that’s ruled him out of the Rabbitohs' Pre-season Challenge and will likely debut for his new club in the round three grudge match against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. Souths coach Jason Demetriou also revealed last month that the plan was to play Wighton at centre.
Demetriou is set to resist calls from many across the game to shift Mitchell out of fullback and back to centre, where he's starred for NSW and the Roosters. Mitchell copped widespread criticism for some lacklustre performances after returning from a calf injury late in the 2023 season. He wasn't able to recapture the form that helped Souths lead the competition early in the season, and they suffered an embarrassing fall from grace to miss the finals altogether.
Latrell Mitchell at centre of Rabbitohs drama in 2023
The form of the fullback was one of many dramas at the Rabbitohs in the back-end of 2023, that included the shock exit of club legend and assistant coach Sam Burgess. The Englishman left after questioning the standards at training across the South Sydney playing group and suggesting stars such as Mitchell and Walker were afforded preferential treatment.
Calls for Mitchell to move into the centres instead of Wighton are certainly strengthened by his previous form at the Roosters, where the 26-year-old averaged 25 games per season from 2016 to 2019 and helped them win two premierships. Since his move to Souths though, Mitchell has played just 64 games (16 per season), missing a staggering 37 in four years. Among the games missed, 26 have come through injury, 10 because of suspension and one due to State of Origin duty.
Despite those numbers, Demetriou says he has brought Wighton in to play centre and there are no plans to shift Mitchell from fullback. NRL greats Gorden Tallis and Braith Anasta were among those to support the decision to keep Latrell at No.1, where he will invariably see more of the footy and be able to stamp a greater authority on matches.
Tallis told NRL 360 last year: “If it was about getting [Mitchell] into the action, fullback would be the spot for him." Anasta added: “Whether people think he’s a centre or a fullback or vice versa, the solution is not moving him from fullback to centre."
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