Canberra playmaker Jack Wighton concedes Jarome Luai deserves the NSW No.6 jersey for the Origin series opener as he prepares to play in the back row for the first time.
Wighton, the 2019 Clive Churchill Medal winner and 2020 Dally M Medalist, has been a mainstay of Blues teams since coming off the interchange to replace Cody Walker at five-eighth early in the second half of the 2019 series opener.
The 28-year-old has been selected in the centres for every Origin since but with Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell both fit and in form, Wighton had been expected to play in the No.6 jersey.
However, NSW coach Brad Fittler opted for Luai alongside his Panthers halves partner Nathan Cleary and Wighton was told he may be used as a roving back-rower from the interchange unless the Blues lose a back to injury.
"I had a little chat to Freddy about it, and he said I need to be prepared for anything," Wighton said.
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"I have just got to get my head around everything and go out and have fun so I’m keeping an open mind about what my role might be.
"It is no secret that Romie and Clears have been one of the best halves combinations in the whole comp. Everyone can see that, and I am stoked for Romie to make his debut also.
"Every time I get picked for this team I truly count it as a blessing so I am just happy to be able to do my part and help out wherever I can."
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The Panthers are undefeated this season and have lost just one match – the 2020 grand final – since June 12 last year, while Canberra have suffered defeat in seven of their last eight matches but Fittler was determined to stick by Wighton in some capacity.
He has extensive NRL experience at fullback, centre and five-eighth for the Raiders but has never played in the back row.
"It always goes through your head that you might miss out, and with the way other players are playing at the moment you can’t be angry if you do," Wighton said.
"These opportunities don't come around all the time and as you get older you work that out more, so I’m definitely not thinking if, but or could about playing five-eighth or anything like that.
"I am really looking forward to taking on the role Freddy’s given me and trying to do my best job for the team."
Wighton was reluctant to talk in-depth about Canberra’s woes as the players are wary that some comments before and since the sudden departure of English halfback George Williams last week have created the image of a divided team.
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The star playmaker insists the players are united and also support Williams, who had been seeking a release at the end of the season to return home with his pregnant partner.
"I think I think everybody spoke a little bit too much in the media and through social media because it puts an outlook on the club that is different to what's actually happening inside the club," Wighton said.
"We’ve had a chat about that, and we are on the right path. It's just going to be a slow process to get back into the winner’s circle and to keep building that team culture off the field too."
Wighton said he has spoken to Williams and it was difficult coming to terms with the fact the pair are unlikely to play together again.
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"He is my right-hand man out on the field so to hear that news that the big fella had to go home because he was homesick, obviously, it's big news for me but it's one of the things you can't change so there is no use dwelling on it," he said.
"I have had a little chat to George. We do get really tight-knit in Canberra and we all wish him well and hope that his mental health is all good, and he gets home to his family where he needs to be."
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