Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart believes niggling frustrated Jack Wighton into punching Cronulla's Sosaia Feki on Sunday night, insisting it would have been nipped in the bud before tempers flared if it was Billy Slater or Greg Inglis.
Wighton and Feki were sin binned in the second half of Canberra's 24-20 win after Wighton landed a right-hander on Feki's chin.
The Raiders fullback was charged with grade-one striking, but escaped suspension after taking the early guilty plea and 93 carryover points.
Wighton proved he's more than capable of filling the huge hole left by the departed Anthony Milford at fullback with an outstanding display, the 22-year-old effectively the difference.
He scored two tries in the first half and set up another, and pulled off a vital match-saving cover tackle on Sharks winger Mitch Brown in the dying stages.
Stuart hinted Wighton was a victim of his own inexperience and isn't afforded the same luxuries as the game's established premier fullbacks.
"If Jack Wighton was Greg Inglis or Billy Slater that wouldn't have happened last night, because the niggle wouldn't have been there," Stuart said.
"They get protected on the ground. Jack's got to do his apprenticeship, and he'll get there one day."
Last year NSW and Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen was suspended for one match for grade-two striking in a State of Origin altercation with Queensland enforcer Nate Myles.
The NRL introduced a strict "ban the biff" policy afterward, with the Wighton incident one of the rare occasions punches have been thrown on the field since.
Wighton has been in the Emerging Blues squad the past three seasons and showed at Shark Park why he's so highly rated by NSW coach Laurie Daley.
The Blues No.1 spot is wide open after incumbent Jarryd Hayne's defection to NFL team San Francisco 49ers.
Manly's Brett Stewart, Penrith's Matt Moylan and St George Illawarra's Josh Dugan appear the main contenders, although Dugan excelled at centre last year as NSW ended Queensland's stranglehold.
But former Raiders assistant coach Brett Kimmorley, who commentated the Cronulla game for Fox Sports, said it's not out of the question Wighton could bolt into contention if he maintains his form.
"The more he plays like that, the more he's going to be in their sights," Kimmorley said.
"He's played Country and can handle rep footy. I know he played centre but it's sometimes not about what position you play, it's about being able to handle the occasion – and he does that pretty well.
"Others have a jump on him but, if he keeps improving, you wouldn't say he couldn't put himself in contention with a good City-Country match this year.
"He's a good kid and is willing to learn, that's the best thing about him. He's an aggressive runner, great catcher, good passer and is really competitive and fiery – as we saw at Cronulla."
The Raiders received more good news from the match review panel when lock Shaun Fensom avoided any charge after being placed on report for an alleged chicken-wing tackle on Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita.
Wighton and Fensom's availability is a huge coup for the Raiders before they host on Sunday night a Warriors side, which put over 100 points on them in two heavy losses last year.
NRL round two: Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors at Canberra Stadium, 6.30pm
Tickets available from Ticketek
TV: Live on Fox Sports