Dally M 2020: Jack Wighton claims NRL's highest individual award in stunning upset
Dally M 2020: Jack Wighton claims NRL's highest individual award in stunning upset

Upset for the ages: Wighton's stunning Dally M victory

In 2019, Jack Wighton was a great footballer playing five-eighth, but in 2020 he became a great five-eighth with the Canberra pivot taking home Dally M Player of the Year honours to prove it.

In a Dally M upset for the ages, Wighton pipped Parramatta's Clint Gutherson and Penrith's Nathan Cleary to become the first Raider in 25 years to take home the game's ultimate individual prize.

An electric second half of the season propelled Wighton to glory with the 27-year-old claiming man of the match honours in four of his last five matches to finish with 26 votes, one clear of Gutherson and two ahead of Cleary.

Penrith's lengthy winning streak had Cleary as the hot favourite and Gutherson's consistency among Parramatta's fluctuating fortunes kept him in the hunt but Wighton would not be denied.

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Jack Wighton with the Dally M Medal.
Jack Wighton with the Dally M Medal.

Wighton is Canberra's first Dally M winner since 1995 when Raiders legend Laurie Daley, to whom Wighton is so often compared, took home the Medal.

Daley is one of the finest players of the modern era and Wighton has played down the comparison in the past.

But with a Dally M medal now sitting alongside the Clive Churchill medal he claimed as best on ground in last year's grand final loss to the Roosters there is no disputing that Wighton is the best playmaker the Raiders have seen since their glory days.

"I can't really explain. I'm actually speechless. Coming here tonight I didn't think I'd win the award."

"His (Ricky Stuart's) support over the last few years, he's been really backing. He's the one who put the faith in me to move into the halves so just having that in itself was something I really built a lot of confidence off."

"It's been a very tough year for everyone. The club has been massive. We're trying to set a foundation, there's something that's really grown over the last few years and you can see that."

"I always try to be a leader and a role model to all the younger kids and show whatever they put their best forward to they can achieve it."

Jack Wighton had a stunning second half of the season.
Jack Wighton had a stunning second half of the season.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart, who masterminded Wighton's move from fullback to five-eighth last season, is the only other Raider to win the game's top individual honour.

The move to the halves transformed Wighton's career - he's become an automatic selection for New South Wales and Australia and one of the game's best players.

A spectacular debut season at five-eighth last year already had Wighton among rugby league's elite but he took things to another level in 2020, especially after Josh Hodgson's season-ending knee injury in Round 9.

Losing the English rake was supposed to put a dagger in Canberra's premiership hopes but Wighton shone over the back half of the year, thriving with the greater responsibility.

As the Raiders continued to punch above their weight while sustaining injury after injury, Wighton showed a greater mastery of the playmaking arts while retaining the raw skill and athleticism that has always made him dangerous.

His combination with English halfback George Williams also blossomed as the year went on, which allows Wighton to unlock his best football.

Wighton hugs halfback george Williams.
Wighton hugs halfback george Williams.

 

Wighton was in seventh place when the voting went behind closed doors after Round 10 but pulled in 16 votes in his final ten matches.

The Raiders won eight of their last ten to keep pace with the rest of the competition's big guns with Wighton's exemplary form keeping them in the hunt for the title.

He was awarded three votes for his role in Canberra's win over South Sydney in Round 11 and caught fire with the rest of the Green Machine down the stretch.

Wighton polled three votes in wins over Gold Coast (Round 15), Canterbury (Round 16), St George Illawarra (Round 18) and New Zealand (Round 19) before he was rested for the final game of the regular season against the Sharks.

Both Cleary and Gutherson were in striking distance but neither could attract a single vote in Round 20, delivering Wighton victory by the barest of margins.

 

Originally published as Upset for the ages: Wighton's stunning Dally M victory

Jack Wighton is the 2020 Dally M Medallist.
Jack Wighton is the 2020 Dally M Medallist.

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