Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has risked the wrath of NRL rivals South Sydney after weighing in on the turmoil at the club with a cheeky dig about Jack Wighton. The Rabbitohs - who have been splashed across the nation's back pages this week following the unceremonious exit of assistant coach Sam Burgess - signed Wighton on a four-year, $3.2 million dollar deal from the start of next season.
The Bunnies have been under fire this week, with Burgess' exit coming after reports of disharmony at the club. It's been widely reported that coach Jason Demetriou fell out with Burgess after the Englishman called him out for giving preferential treatment to star players, Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker.
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It's understood Burgess refused to back down from his assertion that both players were not being held to the same standards as their Rabbitohs teammates. Demetriou and Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly addressed the media on Wednesday to deny there were any issues between Burgess and the club and explained that he was leaving to focus on the impending birth of his child and head coaching role at Warrington, starting in 2024.
Among the worrying fallout at South Sydney, were swirling rumours that Raiders star Wighton was considering a stunning backflip on his big-money move to the club next season. Speaking about the Rabbitohs' dramas on Thursday, Canberra's coach refused to put the Wighton rumours to bed - instead admitting that he wouldn't be surprised if his player was second-guessing his decision to change clubs.
"I can certainly understand why he'd want to renege at the moment," Stuart told reporters on Thursday. "You've all rung me and asked me about it (the backflip rumours)... there's nothing in it."
Jack Wighton and Jarrod Croker set for Canberra farewells
Stuart and Wighton were both moved to tears earlier this season when the Raiders hero made the emotional announcement that he was leaving the club he spent the last decade at. The star five-eighth is now racing the clock to be fit for his final home game of the season against Brisbane on Saturday night, after tweaking his hamstring against Canterbury last weekend.
Saturday night's showdown against the Broncos will also likely be the swansong for club favourite Jarrod Croker, although the 300-game champion and Wighton could both get another home farewell if they cling onto a spot in the top eight. With 545 games between them, Stuart acknowledged that losing the experience of Croker and Wighton would leave a gaping hole in his side.
"What they've achieved personally throughout their careers as Canberra Raiders players is enormous," he said. "I was going through some of the accolades and awards they've received ... the longevity of their careers, it's amazing career for both players.
"You can't replace 500 games with anyone, you can't just go out and buy a player who's at 200, 250, 300 games and fill that experience. We'll go in a different direction next year, but that's next year … it'd be nice for both boys that we get them sent out in the proper fashion."
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