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Raiders coach Ricky Stuart believes Jack Wighton is even more worthy of his NSW jersey for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener than in previous series as he has virtually had to play a lone hand for the Raiders this season.

Wighton will play at left centre in his 10th Origin after Blues coach Brad Fittler showed faith in the Canberra playmaker to replace injured stars Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic, and Stuart predicted he wouldn’t let NSW down.

“It is nice to have the trust of your coach,” Stuart said. “I think Jack’s season this year, he deserves it more than the last couple of times he has been picked. He has been in the most consistent form of his career.”

Wighton has been leading the way for the Raiders this season
Wighton has been leading the way for the Raiders this season ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

Fittler said Wighton’s last two appearances for the Raiders against Parramatta and South Sydney had secured him the spot ahead of Penrith’s Stephen Crichton, despite the Canberra star playing five-eighth and not centre for his club.

What has impressed Stuart about Wighton’s form is the fact he has had to take on the responsibility of being the Raiders main playmaker in the absence of halfback Jamal Fogarty, fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and hooker Josh Hodgson.

“Jack had five fullbacks last year,” Stuart said. “If you go back and look at the different combinations I have had to use in the last 26 matches, no playmaker can perform to their maximum with those disturbances at the ruck. But this year he has been one of our most consistent performers.

“Jack has had more growth as a football player and a person in the last six months than the last nine years I have had him. His growth as a person this year has been a massive, massive assistance to his game.”

Stuart was inducted into the NSWRL Hall of Fame last Monday night, along with former St George hooker Ken Kearney and ex-Western Suburbs centre Harry Wells.

A humbled Stuart dedicated the award to Bob Fulton, who coached him at Test level and was later a NSW and Australian selector when the former dual international became a representative mentor.

He said a key to his success as NSW and Australian halfback was the combinations he enjoyed with Raiders team-mates Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde, as well as Balmain hooker Ben Elias.

Ricky Stuart was inducted into the NSWRL Hall of Fame
Ricky Stuart was inducted into the NSWRL Hall of Fame ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

 “We had a bit of time together and that created the cohesion and the comfort of knowing one another’s game,” Stuart said.

“We played for Australia together. We represented for three or four years together so we were forming a combination where we instinctively knew each other’s game.

“That is where the great Queensland team [of 2006-2017] got to. They were great players but they were comfortable in one another’s presence. It is a big thing in the game today.

“In Origin you have got a lot of time to prepare but having this spine now, with Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, they have played with James [Tedesco] at the back, they know what [Damien] Cook’s game is about.

“That was an advantage in our day. I didn’t need to hear Laurie, I knew where he was going to be. In the really high intense moment when everyone is mentally and physically fatigued, you instinctively know where each other is going to be.

“I think having the same spine is a wonderful advantage in any game, let alone Origin. Jack’s played without that since round seven last year when Charnze went down with his spine problem. What I like is that Freddy has picked Jack there for a reason and Jack loves a coach that trusts him.”

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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