Beyond a dream: Heighington reflects on a grand career
Chris Heighington has joined the long and distinguished list of NRL players hanging up their boots at the end of 2018 and he goes out on his own terms.
The two-time premiership player was picked up by Newcastle coach Nathan Brown on a one-year deal late last season and has played 17 of the Knights' 19 games.
"A lot of ex-players told me I would know when it's time, but I haven't felt that feeling yet, but I do know the pre-seasons are long and another year is a big ask," Heighington said.
"I want to go out on my terms. I'm still playing injury-free and I don't want to be greedy.
"I could try and continue to play but I risk picking up a bad injury or slipping in form, so I feel it's my time to move over and let one of the young boys come in."
The 35-year-old went debuted for Wests Tigers in 2003 and went on to play 201 games for the club. He was part of the premiership-winning side in 2005.
He joined the Cronulla Sharks a decade later and became a dual premiership player in 2016.
"Growing up you dream of playing one NRL game and I have somehow worked in and played in two grand finals, which I still cannot believe - it's beyond a dream," Heighington said.
"It has been a fun journey - I have played in some winning grand final teams which is a highlight of my career.
"In 2005 at the Wests Tigers, no one expected us to win it. We weren't one of the rich clubs, but we got on a bit of a roll and we delivered the Wests Tigers first premiership.
"It was the same for Cronulla. We weren't expected to win it but we went on a 16-game winning streak and won.
"When you start playing footy, you dream of playing in the NRL but to win a premiership is beyond a dream. I got to do that twice. It was pretty special and something I will remember for the rest of my life."
"But I just love the sport, which is one of the toughest sports in the world, and if you don't love it you don't last that long.
"I enjoy the banter of the locker room, and that is something that I am going to miss."
Heighington's games tally already stands at 334 and he calls it "surreal" to be in same company as those ahead of him on the list - Cameron Smith, Darren Lockyer, Terry Lamb, Steve Menzies, Corey Parker, Cooper Cronk and Brad Fittler.
Brown says the veteran forward's experience has been invaluable for his young squad this season.
"He has played so many games, so he knows how to prepare properly," Brown said.
"He knows how to get it right but also knows when to have a laugh and crack a joke, which has helped the younger blokes.
"When you get to 200 you think that's a lot, then you get to 300 and there isn't too many in that group."
Heighington has seen many players come and go from teams throughout the 16 years, and given the current squad, he can see his current club being a major force in NRL in the not too distant future.
"A top-four team, and pushing for a premiership over the next few years," he said.
"How hard they work, how much they want to get better, it's been an eye-opener for me.
"Seeing all these kids really trying hard to better themselves, I can see the Newcastle Knights going really well over the next few years."
Heighington will now focus on his sports performance business, which will allow him to continue "helping people", which he says he is also passionate about.
Date of birth: January 14, 1983
Junior club: Umina Bunnies
Previous clubs: Wests Tigers, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Games: 201 for Tigers, 116 for Sharks and 17 for Knights* (and counting)
Premierships: Two (Tigers in 2005, Sharks in 2016)
Rep honours: Prime Minister's XIII 2 games, NSW Country 2 games, All Stars 1 game, England 7 games.