EDITOR | NOVEMBER 28, 2023 - 2:47PM
Jack Wighton's arrival at Redfern will shape as one of the more intriguing player moves in 2024.
A long-term five-eighth who has played his entire career to date at the Canberra Raiders, Wighton's decision to exit the nation's capital came as something of a surprise.
There is little doubt of Wighton's love for the Raiders - not only has he played each of his 242 NRL games there, but the 30-year-old also gave up representative rugby league in 2023 in an attempt to focus on the club and bring a premiership to Canberra before his departure.
That didn't happen of course, with Wighton's embroiled in an on-field incident during the elimination final against the Newcastle Knights, which the green machine came up short in after a nail-biter of a game.
Whether the Raiders really could have hoped to tussle with the New Zealand Warriors just six days later across the ditch is anybody's guess - the Knights certainly couldn't.
But that brought to an end Wighton's time in the nation's capital.
What was potentially most surprising about his decision to leave the green machine was his final destination.
While there is no doubting Wighton's close relationship with Latrell Mitchell, who would have played an enormous role in bringing him to the club, there is some doubt over the role Wighton will actually play in Jason Demetriou's side.
Instead of playing at five-eighth, Wighton is likely to be shuffled out to the centres, or potentially used even as a middle forward. It's something Ricky Stuart floated in Canberra on more than one occasion during the second half of 2023, although it's difficult to suggest Wighton looked anywhere near as good in either of those positions as he did at five-eighth.
Regardless, with Cody Walker playing State of Origin in 2023 and signed for each of the next two seasons, it's a role Wighton is going to have to get used to very quickly if he wants to fit in at the Burrow.
Whichever way you look at it - from South Sydney's or Wighton's perspective - it's an enormous call.
If it works, Demetriou is going to look like a genius. It's something he needs as well after South Sydney's dismal end to 2023 which saw them somehow miss the finals despite leading the competition shortly before the halfway mark.
If it doesn't, Demetriou could well find himself cleaning out his locker at Redfern, and not only because of the failure, but because of ultimately a risk that he and his recruitment staff potentially never needed to take.
It's a big call, but Isaiah Tass didn't put a great number of feet wrong in the 2023 campaign.
The 24-year-old, who had bounced through the Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury Bulldogs systems before arriving at the Rabbitohs has now played 39 NRL games for the red and green since his debut in 2022.
23 of those games came during the 2023 season, with the centre making 124 metres per contest to go with 9 tries, 9 try assists, 52 tackle busts and a tackle efficiency of almost 90 per cent - a great number for a centre.
The bottom line is that Tass was solid at the worst of times for the Rabbitohs, and while he didn't bring the X-Factor that Wighton is expected to bring as he lines up in a star centre combination with Campbell Graham, there is no guarantee Wighton will bring that.
Wighton undoubtedly has played well in the centres before at representative level, but age is the enemy of all players, and the Rabbitohs might find that out the hard way in 2024.
That is particularly the case if Tass starts to aim for a departure. He could yet move to the wing, but it's clear Alex Johnston will line up on one side of the park, and the Rabbitohs are attempting to bring through 18-year-old Tyrone Munro on the other after he scored three tries in three games during his debut 2023 season.
With no room for Tass in the starting side, and the 23-year-old clearly too good to be playing reserve grade, it does beg the question - which clubs should be making a play?
It'll likely take a player swap to get the job done, and the Rabbitohs may well be after more depth in the middle third through a player who could easily slot onto their bench to back up the likes of Tevita Tatola and Thomas Burgess while providing healthy competition for bench minutes to the likes of Davvy Moale and Shaquai Mitchell.
Whether it's a club like the St George Illawarra Dragons, who have questions in their outside backs, not least of which over whether Zac Lomax could find himself at fullback, or whether it's at a place like the Cronulla Sharks, where the club could be looking to shift Siosifa Talakai back into the forward pack, there are options here.
Other clubs that immediately spring to mind in potentially making a play for Tass are the Wests Tigers, Parramatta Eels and North Queensland Cowboys and potentially even the Manly Sea Eagles if they viewed Tass as an upgrade over Brad Parker.