NRL veteran hangs up his boots
WITH 334 NRL games to his name and possibly 339 by the end of the 2018 season, Chris Heighington has announced he will call it a day.
The veteran Knights forward announced this season would be his last as an NRL player at a press conference attended by family, friends and teammates at Wests Mayfield yesterday.
In a career that began in 2003 with Wests Tigers, Heighington has won two premierships, one there and one with the the Cronulla Sharks.
This is his first season at Newcastle.
If he plays the rest of the season, Heighington will end up seventh on the all-time most capped list, surpassing Brad Fittler (336 games).
Heighington said it wasn't a difficult decision to make, knowing his long career and all he had achieved made it the right time.
"To be honest, I didn't want to go that year too long," he said.
"I want to go out on my terms where playing, doing an OK job for the team and not getting one of those injuries that forces you into retirement. I've seen a few of them over the last few years and I just didn't want that happening to me.
"Just to go out on my terms was the main decision."
Joking that Tony Ayoub's warm-ups taking it out of him had played a part in calling it quits, he said he was looking forward to watching the young guys on TV chase their dreams now.
Likely to finish his career in between Cooper Cronk and Brad Fittler on the all-time games list, Heighinton said two premierships he achieved were what he cherished most.
"Growing up as a kid, you dream about maybe playing one NRL game - somehow I played two grand finals, which I still can't, it's beyond a dream," he said.
"The grand finals stick out more than the games, to be honest.
"You train really hard through the pre-season, you work really hard to get that ultimate goal, that's to win a grand final. Nothing compares to them.
"Who would have thought I'd be able to do that, coming from the Central Coast not having made many rep teams and all that stuff. To click over 300 is something that I can't get my head around but the grand finals stick out way ahead of them."
He lists Brett Hodgson and Benji Marshall among the best he's played alongside and even mentioned young Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga.
And he's played against some of the toughest too.
"Gorden Tallis, I remember it was my second game at Leichhardt Oval and I was the third man in and I remember going to get his ribs and trying to get him to the ground and he saw me coming," Heighington said.
"I honestly hit him and bumped to the ground and thought 'Geez, I'm not ready for this NRL yet, it's a hard game.'
"Webcke I played against a few times, Civoniceva, all those guys who as a young kid you looked up to then got the opportunity to play. You realise how big and tough and strong they really are."
The forward has set himself up well for life after football, with a sports performance business already established.
Heighington has surf trips planned for the coming summer and clients lined up, so will be straight into the next phase of his life.
With his son Rocco to start school next year too, wife Sonia says her husband has been marked down for school runs as well.
Heighinton said: "I've been doing (the business) for the last three or four years. I train a few surfers with their fitness.
"It's something I'm really passionate about. A guy asked me to help him probably four or five years ago and I wasn't going down that track, then I really enjoyed helping a guy out.
"He's one of the surfers I help still today and seemed to get a heap of improvement from the way I trained him.
"This is probably the next best thing, to help other people achieve their goals."