Jack Wighton of Country is tackled by the City defence. Photo: Mark Kolbe
Asking a 20-year-old, with 15 NRL games to his name, to mark an incumbent NSW centre seems tough.
But Jack Wighton is no ordinary youngster. Just ask his Canberra Raiders teammate Josh McCrone.
Wighton won a points battle over speedster Michael Jennings for the second time in three weeks in Country's 18-12 win over City at Coffs Harbour on Sunday.
Josh McCrone of Country scores a try in the 16th minute against City. Photo: Mark Kolbe
McCrone, also influential at halfback for Country before shifting to hooker late, rates it the best game he's seen Wighton play.
Predictably the Orange junior was heavily targetted by Jennings, with City giving the Roosters superstar as many chances as possible.
The result? Sixteen tackles without a miss for Wighton, including a game-best six one-on-one tackles.
Wighton performed a similar blanket job on Jennings in Canberra's 24-22 comeback win over the Roosters in round five.
''It's the best game I've seen him play, he was massive,'' McCrone said. ''He's played Jennings twice in three weeks, and I think he's come away with the points both times.
''He didn't take a backward step when he had to run the ball either.''
McCrone, who scored the game's first try with a ''show and go'' and set another up, has watched Wighton grow in confidence this week.
He expects him to take his game to a higher level after being tutored by senior players such as Michael Ennis and Aidan Tolman.
''I think Jack has grown even this last week, he seems to have a bit more maturity about it and I think that showed in today's game,'' McCrone said.
''Hopefully he brings that back at the Raiders, and I have no doubt he will because he's a real competitor.''
McCrone said Wighton was, at his age, the best defender for an outside back he's seen.
''He's still growing and going to be a real handful, but he's whacking blokes now,'' McCrone said.
Country coach Trent Barrett singled Wighton out for special mention.
''Jack Wighton, he's a tough, tough, tough kid,'' Barrett said. ''All those young blokes we picked I thought they were outstanding. I think no one there did themselves any harm in furthering their rep careers anyway.''
NSW coach Laurie Daley said last week McCrone and Bulldogs star Josh Reynolds would come into calculations for the Blues utility bench role should anything happen to Kurt Gidley.
McCrone played about 10 minutes at dummy half late in Sunday's game, with Raiders teammate Sam Williams taking over at halfback.
But the Temora product, who churned through 28 tackles, said pushing his Origin claims was the last thing on his mind.
''I didn't see it as a trial at all, I was just happy to play because I'm a proud Country kid,'' he said.
''I don't think my defensive abilities [at hooker] are under question, it's just getting the match fitness playing there.''
Barrett urged Daley and the NSW selectors to ignore building for the future and pick a side capable of ending Queensland's seven-year dominance.
''No matter if someone's 33 or 18, you pick the best team,'' Barrett said. ''If that's Willie [Mason] or Jack Wighton or whoever, you pick them.
''It's still got a lot of merit this game, it's annoying when I hear it's a waste of time.
''Go in there and ask the [Josh] Jacksons, the [Boyd] Cordners and Wightons if it was a waste of time?
''They're thrilled to be here, it's a springboard to their rep careers and I hope this is just the start of it.''
AT A GLANCE
NSW COUNTRY 18 (J McCrone, J McManus, A Uate tries; J Maloney 3 goals) bt NSW CITY 12 (A Fifita, A Reynolds tries; A Reynolds 2 goals) at BCU International Stadium. Crowd: 4635. Referees: Chris James, Adam Devcich.