Meet the NRL's lightest prop forward
After his Dragons beat the Wests Tigers at the Sydney Football Stadium, he had no choice but to go home and ask the man in the mirror if he really was a front-rower.
No, your eyes are fine. That sentence reads correctly. The fact is Jason Nightingale is a front-rower… a prop-forward… a bookend… pig… part of the engine room. Think ‘The Sloth’, ‘The Brick with Eyes’, ‘Cement’, ‘Blocker’, ‘Chief’, ‘Dallas’, ‘Spud’… and then ‘Nightingale’.
At 183cm, 91kg and with a pedigree of being a winger and fullback, Nightingale sold his speed and common sense to the devil in exchange for a spare tyre and a pair of cauliflower ears.
“Now I’ve got to convince myself I’m a front-rower,” Nightingale says of his brief, but authentic, debut up front against the Tigers.
Last year, the Kiwi international was one of the NRL’s leading wingers, but after some injuries earlier this year, he hasn’t been able to recapture his flankman’s jersey because of the outstanding form of Brett Morris and Wendell Sailor.
However, as a testament to his match-winning ability and courageous qualities , Wayne Bennett has kept Nightingale in the side and used him as an impact weapon. Off the bench this year he’s played fullback, wing, centre, lock, second row and now… yes, we’re sorry Noel Kelly... he’s played prop.
“I had joked about playing front row over the past few weeks as I’ve been getting closer to the action,” he says.
“I saw the opportunity when ‘Horse’ Weyman went down, so it was good to get the chance!
“Wayne told me at halftime, ‘I’m going to send you into the ruck and you can roam around there and do your thing.’ I got a bit excited.”
In the ultimate slap in the face to ‘Rolls’ Royce Ayliffe, Geoff Robinson and Marty Bella, Nightingale confesses: “It’s not so much a thinking role, so it was something I was looking forward to,” he continues, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek.
“I only did one hit-up off the kick-off and that was about it. But that was good, it wasn’t too bad – it made me feel a little bit more part of the front-rower’s club!”
Bennett admits he didn’t expect it either.
“I never did, but that’s what I love about Jason, he’s such a courageous player. I love his courage. I needed him to do it and he did it,” the master coach says.
Legendary Dragons prop Craig Young was more than happy to welcome Nightingale to the bookend’s club.
“He gives 100 per cent, whatever he does. You could put him anywhere,” Young says.
“He’s a tough young man , he trains hard and he’s putting the team first which is a great attribute he’s got.”
And speedster Brett Morris has nothing but admiration for his former ally-turned-prop graduate.
“Jason is a quality player so he has to be in the team somewhere. His head is never down and he dead-set played front row last week,” Morris adds.
“There’s not much of him but he’s got a big heart and he’s as strong as an ox.”
While Nightingale would certainly prefer to be starting in the outside backs he’s enjoying the chance to add to his résumé.
“It’s not something every winger gets to do. Usually if you’re not playing wing you’re not going to be in the team. But I’ve enjoyed the opportunity and I have confidence now that if it ever came to playing different positions down the track, I’ve done it before,” he says.
“It’s easy to get frustrated but you’ve got to understand you’re best used where the team needs you. At the moment they don’t need me on the wing or at fullback with the way the boys are going so I’m just happy to have a role in the side and that Wayne’s got the confidence to give me a shot at positions where people my size wouldn’t normally play.”