Jack Wighton's 'illegal' deal questioned as Ricky Stuart and Mal Meninga lash out

The Canberra Raiders coach was left fuming at the NRL process.

Jack Wighton during a match and Ricky Stuart on the sideline.
Jack Wighton's (pictured left) announcement that he will be moving to the Rabbitohs next year has sparked anger from Raiders coach Ricky Stuart (pictured right). (Getty Images)

Jack Wighton's bombshell signing for the Rabbitohs next year has sparked anger from the Raiders, with the details of the deal coming under heavy scrutiny from NRL journalists. Wighton left the NRL world in shock when he announced his four-year deal with the Rabbitohs, which saw him turn down lucrative offers from the Raiders and other clubs.

Wighton's move saw him take close to a $1 million pay cut in the hopes of winning a premiership at Souths. However, his mid-season announcement has left a sour taste in the mouth of coach Ricky Stuart.

'THAT IS AWFUL': Wests Tigers rocked by 'horrible' new development

'WHAT A JOKE': Luke Brooks at centre of fresh Wests Tigers furore

On NRL 360 on Wednesday night, the details around the deal came under scrutiny, with James Hooper reporting the deal is 'back-ended' so that Wighton will earn $700,000, $750,000, $900,000 and $950,000 over the next four years.

This prompted reporter Paul Kent to call out the deal and question whether it will be ticked off by the salary cap auditor. “Back-ended contracts are illegal in the NRL,” Kent added. “The NRL salary cap auditors will look at it, and they’ll need to look at it. We all know the stories of different clubs where these sorts of things go on and this is highly unusual, he’s taken a pay cut to leave a club.”

On Wednesday, Stuart let rip at the 'unfair' system and blasted the process with Wighton now playing out his season with fans and teammates knowing he will leave. "I want to reassure you all that the club did everything possible to keep Jack at the Raiders and we wanted nothing more than to see him reach 300 games and become a one-club player," Stuart said in a statement.

"I want to let our loyal members and fans know that I bleed green as much as you do, and as much as it hurts today, our future is still ahead of us, and we will continue on the path we best see fit to give this club the success it deserves.

“As a club, we believe the current contracting system where players can sign well out from the end of their current contract is flawed. It is not fair to you who I see as our major stakeholders, the club, and as importantly the players.

"I know it would have been hard for you, our Raiders fans, because I know what the feeling was like for me, to see an image of Jack in a Souths jersey (digitally altered) on the back page of a Sydney paper today.”

Canberra reportedly offered Wighton $4.4 million over four years to stay at the club, only for him to take significantly less money to shift to South Sydney. That's led to Raiders officials reportedly lodging a formal complaint with the NRL to ensure third-party arrangements are not making up the difference. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the league hadn't yet received Wighton's contract but would follow standard processes when they get it.

Mal Meninga saddened over Jack Wighton update

Raiders great and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga was also left upset over Wighton's move. The legendary Maroons star claimed Wighton's pay cut was a sign the five-eighth doesn't think he can win a premiership with his current teammates in the next few seasons.

“He’s made the decision based on, (that) he wants to win a premiership, that’s the first part,” Meninga said on SEN Radio. “For me Jack obviously hasn’t got any confidence in the Raiders (winning) a premiership in the near future, which disappoints me to be honest with you.

“In my opinion, he’s a leader of the club. He’d want to win a premiership with the club this year, wouldn’t he? Anyone that’s playing in the game at the moment wants to get on a run and win the premiership.

“From my perspective, he’s got no faith in the club to win a premiership in the next three to four years. Obviously he’s got plenty of faith in the Rabbitohs to do that. There’s no other reason, it’s not even money related is it? The Raiders offered him more money than the Rabbitohs offered him."

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga speaking at a press conference.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga (pictured) was left disappointed with the Jack Wighton announcement. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC) (Jan Kruger via Getty Images)

While Meninga said he wished the five-eighth remained at the Raiders as a one-club player, he understood Wighton needed to make the tough decisions towards the end of his career. While Raiders greats were upset with Wighton's decision, his future Rabbitohs teammate was thrilled at the announcement.

Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook said he was delighted that Wighton is joining the club. "(We could) move a few boys around the back line there, which is obviously a hard one at the moment too, because both our centres (Isaiah Tass and Campbell Graham) are playing really good football," he told Sky Radio.

"We all believe we can win the comp ... for him to pick us and say that's where he thinks is his best chance, knowing a lot of clubs would have been after him, that's a massive hit of confidence for us as a team."

with AAP

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.