CHRIS Heighington is poised to shatter records for longevity after the Knights offered him a chance to extend his NRL career well past his 36th birthday.
The former Wests Tigers and Cronulla premiership winner, who will represent England at the World Cup, has agreed to a one-year deal with Newcastle after the Sharks opted not to retain him.
By the time next season kicks off, Heighington will have turned 36 and he will surpass Craig Gower (35 years, 1 month, 18 days) as Newcastle’s oldest debutant. He will become only the third 36-year-old to play for the Knights, after Jeremy Smith and Adam MacDougall.
Barring an injury-enforced retirement, he will end the season as the oldest player to have taken the field for Newcastle, overtaking Smith (36 years, 4 months, 20 days).
In addition, he will be the first 300-game player in Newcastle’s history.
A 2003 debutant with the Tigers, Heighington is 12th on the all-time list of most games played with 318.
By the end of next season, he could conceivably have climbed into the top six.
Nobody has played more games for the Knights than club legend Danny Buderus (257), while the most experienced player to wear their colours was former Test hooker Steve Walters, who played in 272 first-grade games in his career, but only seven for Newcastle.
A host of Heighington’s teammates for next season, in particular Sam Stone, Daniel and Jacob Saifiti, Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger, were still in primary school when Heighington’s NRL career kicked off.
Another new recruit, former North Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga, was only four years old.
A Umina Bunnies junior, Heighington said on Thursday in a statement: “I grew up on the Central Coast and always liked the Knights and I remember watching the 1997 and 2001 grand finals, so it just made sense.
“There are some great young kids coming through the system and hopefully I can help out just as much off the field to see them grow as players.”
Knights football manager Darren Mooney said Heighington would provide valuable experience.
“Chris’s professionalism and his knowledge of the game will be a great asset to the Knights,” Mooney said in a statement.
“He will be able to provide strong leadership to our young players and will be able to assist in their development both on and off the field.”
The Knights were keen to sign Heighington 12 months ago but he opted to stay with the Sharks after their 2016 grand final triumph.
Heighington will join Newcastle’s other new recruits – Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Aidan Guerra and Connor Watson (Roosters), Herman Ese’ese and Tautau Moga (Brisbane), Slade Griffin (Melbourne) and Ponga at pre-season training.
Young prop Tyrone Amey will be hoping he is still required after Heighington’s arrival.
The 21-year-old, who made an impressive last-round debut against Cronulla, remains off contract.
His agent has been negotiating with Knights officials but no agreement has been reached.
Knights coach Nathan Brown said Amey was “outstanding” against the Sharks and was hopeful a deal could be struck to retain him.