Raiders 27 Tigers 12
Jack Wighton scores the second try for the Raiders. Photo: Matt Bedford
Who needs James Tedesco, Kevin Proctor or Michael Ennis?
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart may be asking himself that question after young stars Jack Wighton and Mitch Cornish gave Raiders fans a glimmer of hope with fine displays in Saturday's 27-12 win over fellow strugglers Wests Tigers at Canberra Stadium.
Canberra Raiders v Wests Tigers
Scenes from the NRL game between the Raiders and the Tigers at GIO Stadium. Photo: Matthew Bedford
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Tupou, Wighton, Papalii, Milford||Tries||4||Tries||2||Players||Austin, Taupau|
|Players||Croker 4/4 (100%)||Conversions||4||Conversions||2||Players||Richards 2/2 (100%)|
|Players||Croker 1/1 (100%)||Penalty goals||1||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Milford 1/1 (100%)||Field goals||1||Field goals||0||Players|
In his second game at fullback, Wighton combined superbly with halfback Cornish, who started in his first NRL game.
Stuart recently said unless he recruits Origin stars, Canberra's flagging fortunes "ain't going to change", but he knows he has potential future representative players on his hands.
The average age of Canberra's side on Saturday was 23. The back-line average was 21, with Wighton, Cornish, Edrick Lee, Jeremy Hawkins and Anthony Milford all products of the 2012 under-20 side which made the grand final.
Cornish laid on the first two Canberra tries and Wighton, who has played every spot in the back line bar halfback, may have finally found a home at No.1.
Wighton's display, particularly in the first half, and Cornish's halfback battle with fellow young gun Mitch Moses, were the highlights in an otherwise mediocre contest.
The Raiders have been linked to Manly's Brett Stewart and Brisbane's Josh Hoffman as fullback options for next year, while injured Tigers custodian Tedesco reneged on a contract he signed with them.
But after giving Stuart "food for thought" with a strong first-up fullback display against Cronulla last week, Wighton may be the answer.
Asked if Wighton and Cornish's combination had given him encouragement for next year, Stuart said: "It's important for the fans to get encouragement as well.
"I see it every day and every week, I know what I've got there. Jack's second game at fullback was strong again.
"I've said that all along, these guys need more game time. Jack Wighton needs another 25-40 games, you're not an experienced first-grader until you've played 60-70 games.
"I can name a heap of them, they're kids and they're learning."
The result ensured Cronulla will take the wooden spoon. The Raiders have avoided joining their inaugural 1982 team in the history books.
It was also the first time the Raiders have secured back-to-back wins this year.
Stuart has brought Cornish along slowly, with six games off the bench, and praised his first 80-minute performance.
The 21-year-old looked at home steering the ship, but it was one piece of magic with Wighton that would have lifted Canberra fans' spirits.
With Canberra leading 6-0 late in the first half, Cornish held back a pass and put Wighton through a yawning gap for a try.
"I thought he was very good for the first game he starts in first grade," former champion halfback Stuart said.
"I was happy for him, it's probably easier starting."
Cornish said the combinations in the back line forged in the juniors helped him settle in.
"We're all pretty close and starting to feel comfortable up there now," Cornish said.
"It doesn't take too long to click into gear, we all know how each other plays.
"Playing 80 minutes means I can ease into the game and play my style, which is controlling the game."
Wighton, who began the year at five-eighth and made his name mainly at centre, said he was "loving" playing fullback, and would not be averse to playing there full time.
"I'm loving the No.1, I've got a bit of work to do with positioning but hopefully that will come with a bit more game time and studying players like GI [Greg Inglis] and Billy Slater.
"Us under-20 players know each other and have confidence in each other, that's the easiest way to put it."
Wighton's display also earned praise from Tigers skipper Robbie Farah, who dealt with him when he was a NSW shadow player before Origin II.
"He's a good kid, we've all known that for a while," Farah said.
"He's had a couple of injuries previously, but he was brought into the Origin system to get a taste and it goes to show what people at that level think of him."
Both teams were injury ravaged and had little to play for other than pride, but a massive 17 errors from the Tigers gave them no chance.
A Cornish crossfield kick laid on the first try in the third minute, Edrick Lee leaping over Pat Richards to tap it back to winger Bill Tupou to score.
Wighton's try just before the break gave them a 12-0 lead.
The Tigers got back in the contest when five-eighth Blake Austin crossed out wide with 23 minutes left.
But Richards undid his good work by knocking on an innocuous Milford kick, which eventually led to a penalty goal to Jarrod Croker with 19 minutes left.
Bench forward Martin Taupau crashed over near the post from the ensuing set to bridge the gap to 14-12 with 15 minutes left.
However a Josh Papalii try off Milford's face ball ensured Canberra's sixth win of the year.