CANBERRA Raiders Toyota Cup coach Andrew Dunemann believes his side’s thrilling one-point triumph over defending premiers the New Zealand Warriors wouldn’t have been possible without the return of boom pivot Jack Wighton.
Wighton, a Bloomfield Tigers and Orange CYMS junior, made his return in the Green Machine’s under 20s outfit following a four-month lay off brought on by damaged ligaments in the 19-year-old’s big toe, suffered in a trampoline accident.
But last Sunday Wighton got his timing spot on.
With a rampaging Toka Likiliki storming down the touchline for the Warriors, Wighton came over in cover and pulled off a crucial tackle to put Likiliki into touch.
It proved pivotal in the outcome of the match.
And the play wasn’t lost on Dunemann.
“Without a doubt. To be honest with you if he doesn’t play we don’t win the game,” Dunemann said of the 39-38 triumph.
“He pulled off a great tackle on one of their big guys and put him in to touch.
“I don’t think anyone else in the team could have done that.”
It showed the youngster’s class.
And with NRL centre Jarrod Croker set to miss the Raiders’ semi-final clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night after suffering a fractured cheekbone, it’s the kind of play that could see Wighton back in the top grade.
Dunemann, though, wouldn’t let on if Wighton was in-line to fill Croker’s shoes in the Raiders three-quarter line.
Instead, the under 20s mentor said the Orange junior was more than a capable fill in for his squad.
“He’ll be better for the run. He trains with the top squad now but he fits in great, all of the boys love him,” he said of Wighton, who is still eligible for the under 20s in 2013.
“You forget (how young he is) sometimes. He’s got a decent future ahead of him.”
Dunemann said his side showed great character in the dramatic come-from-behind win.
The Raiders led 20-4 and then 32-20 before the Warriors hit back to lead 38-32 with just minutes left on the clock.
But Canberra hit back thanks to a converted try to Anthony Milford to draw level with the Warriors.
Then, with just seconds remaining on the clock, Milford potted the match-winning field goal to send the parochial Canberra Stadium crowd into a frenzy and gift the Canberra under 20s outfit a preliminary final berth.
“We got out to a 16-point lead twice and gave it up both times,” Dunemann said.
“We showed a bit of character to win it from there.”
The one-point triumph earns the Raiders a weekend off, with the winner of the St George Illawarra and Canterbury clash set to face Canberra in the preliminary final in two weeks.