New South Wales coach Michael Maguire has offered a massive clue about Jack Wighton's potential State of Origin backflip for the Blues. Wighton stunned the NRL world last year after announcing his retirement from rep footy, with the 30-year-old revealing at the time that he wanted to focus more on his family and club footy with Canberra.
The former Raiders star has since made a big-money move to South Sydney, where he will link up with good mate Latrell Mitchell as part of a potent Rabbitohs backline. The move has also apparently shifted Wighton's decision to retire from rep footy, with recent reports suggesting he is set for a massive backflip by making himself available to Maguire - who is taking over the NSW head coaching role from Brad Fittler.
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Life under Maguire at the Blues kicked off with a two-day camp consisting of 36 established and emerging players over the weekend, with the NSW coach wasting no time in trying to snap the Maroons' recent dominance at Origin level under Billy Slater. The legendary former Queensland fullback has guided the Maroons to consecutive Origin series wins since taking the reins in 2022, with NSW hoping Maguire can put an end to that streak in 2024.
Maguire takes over from Fittler after a successful stint as head coach of New Zealand, having masterminded the Kiwis' stunning 30-0 upset win over Australia in the final of last year's Pacific Cup. A former premiership-winning coach at South Sydney, Maguire was also assistant to Canberra coach Ricky Stuart last season, where he had plenty of time familiarising himself with Wighton's game.
Michael Maguire discusses Jack Wighton's Origin prospects
While Wighton wasn't a part of Maguire's 36-player Blues camp, it hasn't stopped the NSW coach adding further weight to reports about his potential Origin backflip. In a telling insight into Wighton's prospects of suiting up for the Blues in 2024, Maguire talked up how much of a "big game player" the 30-year-old is and suggested the decision could ultimately come down to the Rabbitohs star about whether he returns to the Origin arena.
“I enjoyed working in Canberra over the last 12 months with Ricky Stuart and the playing group including Jack,” Maguire said on SEN radio. “Jack wants to settle himself in Sydney and with his new club (the Rabbitohs)," he added about the reasons why Wighton was not part of the Blues camp.
“He’s still retired but I told him to get himself playing and see how he’s travelling. We’ll have a discussion as the season transpires. We all know he’s a big game player whenever he’s in that arena. In time, I’m sure Jack will decide whether he’s ready to go again.”
Maguire says part of the reason he was so keen to get a squad of potential Blues stars together before the season has kicked off was to instil a culture and mentality into the playing group that has perhaps been missing in recent years. The Blues often go into Origin series as favourites but are frequently out-enthused by Queensland sides that play with a real intensity and passion for the jersey. Maguire says he's desperate to bring that mindset and sense of duty to his NSW squad so fans from all over the state can be proud of their team.
“The reason behind me wanting to do this role is to (bring together) a town of 4 million plus,” Maguire said. “I want to show the people of NSW - from the city, to the country and to the beaches - to galvanise and get behind a team they can be proud of.
"It’s something that I really enjoy and that starts this weekend (at camp). I have brought a lot of quality players together and have had some high quality conversations with some of the boys who have been around the Origin arena. You can see what it means to them and the fact they want to perform for the people of NSW. We have had a mixed bag of results and all the players are hungry to build something special.”
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