It was probably a bit of a surprise to see Chris Heighington in a blue tracksuit and a wig, dancing around on national television.
While the football world is used to his team-mate Beau Ryan clowning around on The Footy Show, the sight of sombre-looking back-rower Heighington playing for laughs has been unusual. But venture to Tigers territory and you’ll notice the 28-year-old at home among a sea of characters in the black and gold.
“There are about 1000 characters in this team,” Heighington observes dryly. “But it keeps everyone happy and everyone enjoys each other’s company.
“Doing skits and stuff is just a bit of fun. I don’t take life too seriously. It was through the off-season… Beau’s a pretty funny guy and it was just a bit of laugh.”
And what about his biography note for journalists in this year’s NRL Media Guide that states his ambition to become a professional surfer when he retires from footy?
He laughs, but still manages to give a pretty serious answer.
“I’d love to be a pro surfer,” he says. “I think they’ve got the best lifestyle, travelling the world and surfing. I do a bit of surfing but I’m not that good, but I’d love to do it professionally, for sure.”
It’s almost 10 years since Heighington had his first taste of first grade football, but he’ll have to hold off on that surfing dream yet.
Touted time and time again by coach Tim Sheens as a player who is built for representative football, Heighington is still the cornerstone of his team, getting through mountains of work every week.
In 2010, he had one of his best years – with an average of 109.9 metres, 31.5 tackles, and a total of 28 offloads.
As the representative period rolls around once again, the Umina Bunnies junior is hoping selectors keep him in mind given he’s one of the most reliable and consistent footballers in the game.
“Last year was probably the best year I’ve had, you know? Injury-free – and the team was doing well,” Heighington says.
“Hopefully I can get back to some of that form soon. Obviously everyone who plays in the NRL wants to compete at the highest level and Origin is the highest level. I want to string some games together and put myself in the picture. I’ve had a couple of good games; I was pretty quiet against the Roosters but I’m looking towards having a good game on Friday night and getting back up there.”
This year he’ll need to have an even bigger presence for his team, who are in the midst of a horror injury crisis.
For Heighington, who played lock all of last year, this means covering a lot of ground in the back row, including helping fill the gap left by injured England international Gareth Ellis.
“I don’t really mind where I play; I go from lock to second row through the game and that’s the way I like it,” he says.
“It gets me through a lot more minutes, gets me closer to the 80 minutes. I’d rather play lock but going out there and getting a bit of a breather in the second row works for me as well.
“‘Gaz’ is a very good player. He’s been awesome for me when he turned up a couple of years back. He’s really good for the team as well, he brings an air of excitement and he’s really liked around the group and brings a hell of a lot of confidence to the group.”
Despite the injury toll, the Tigers expect success – and Heighington is confident they have what it takes to topple any team on their day.
“We have had a few injuries but we’re not using that as an excuse,” he says. “We’ve got a few really good players come into the team and with the depth that we’ve got at the club it shouldn’t be a problem. It was a good 17 that played against the Roosters and we went into the game thinking we could win it. There were no injuries coming out of the game, so we’re going to go back in there and put in a better effort against Souths.”
They only need look as far as their Heritage Round clashes with the Rabbitohs during the past couple of years to realise their opposition is going to bring everything they’ve got in their arsenal.
Besides the 40-point walloping last year, 2009 also broke the Tigers faithful’s hearts when Nathan Merritt slotted a field goal in the dying seconds to win that season’s Heritage Round game.
“They’re a really good team and they’ve signed well in the off-season,” Heighington says of South Sydney. “No doubt it’s going to be a hard match. It’s good having the Heritage Round – the fans can get involved, and also the ex-players. As a player I enjoy it.”