Rugby League


NRL: Jack Wighton relishing chance to take on former housemate Blake Ferguson

If anyone could give Sydney Rooster Blake Ferguson a few pointers on moving from right centre to fullback, it's Jack Wighton. 

But the Canberra Raiders custodian is unlikely to be handing out any advice on Saturday when Ferguson returns to Canberra for the first time since he was sacked in 2013. 

The picture of Ferguson skipping training with Josh Dugan to drink breezers on a roof in early 2013 is an unwanted chapter in Raiders folklore. 

Wighton was Ferguson's roommate at the time, along with Sandor Earl, currently serving a drugs ban. 

A centre or winger at the time, Wighton has now found his feet at fullback and is more accomplished at giving the defensive line direction, his positioning and the work rate required. 

Ferguson played his first game in the no.1 jersey for the Roosters in Sunday's 42-10 loss to Souths, but looked a little lost at times filling the big shoes of the departed Roger Tuivasa Sheck. 


There is a strong chance Wighton will shift to five-eighth to deputise for the injured Blake Austin (knee), who will be sidelined for four to six weeks.

"It's going to be good to play Fergy," Wighton said.   

"It's always a good battle against the Roosters, they're coming off a loss so it's only going to get tougher. 

"Fergy's a good all-round player, he's a natural freak and always has been since he was young. 

"I think he knows what he has to do, and he'll be a big key to their attack."

Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker said in November he expected Blake Ferguson to cop some niggle from the crowd when he returns to the capital. 

"I'm sure [Raiders fans] will get stuck into him," Croker said. "It's all part and parcel of any bloke who leaves the club and goes back and plays at that ground, it's always bound to happen.

"But I'm sure they won't be too harsh on him and I'm sure he'll handle it fine. He's been talked about as the replacement for Tuivasa-Sheck at fullback, so there might be a few big high balls go up and the crowd can get into him then."

Wighton was one of Canberra's best in Saturday's 30-22 win against Penrith, but his heart was in his mouth after he dropped a high kick ten metres out with a minute left, when the Raiders led 26-22.

The Raiders held on, much to the relief of Wighton. 

"It was terrible, I kept the fans on their feet and wish I didn't drop it," he said.  

"Big Eddy Lee came up with a read and saved my backside, it was good. "

Remarkably given the torrid 35 degree conditions, Canberra's two Englishmen Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead were the only two Raiders forwards to play 80 minutes against Penrith. 

Hodgson played much of the match at five-eighth once Austin went off injured, but Whitehead's effort is admirable given it was his NRL debut. 

Conditions are expected to be warm again for Saturday afternoon's Roosters clash at Canberra Stadium, with around 32 degrees forecast

"We've trained all pre-season at three o'clock in that heat, I'm glad I got through the full 80 minutes," Whitehead said. 

"To be fair I thought it [NRL] couldn't be that much faster but when I started playing, I thought this is a lot quicker.

"It took me about 25 minutes to get into the game and get a second wind, but once I got that I thought I could stay up to that pace."

No drinks breaks midway through halves took place during Saturday's game, after both team's medical officers reportedly opted against a drinks break.

Raiders prop Jeff Lima insisted he didn't have an issue if that wasn't changed for the Roosters game. 

"That's the reason why he [Raiders strength and conditioner Nigel Ashley-Jones] makes us train at three o'clock in the afternoon, for games like this," Lima said. 

"They say the more you do it, the more you get used to it."

Raiders winger Jordan Rapana said:  "I think we handled it really well. Obviously it was really hot but we've been training every day at three or four o'clock.

"If there's a team that's conditioned to that temperature it's definitely us.

"I think we've improved a lot since last year and obviously holding them out that last five minutes showed we're a different team to what we were last year.

"Psychologically,  it was a boost for us."