KNIGHTS veteran Chris Heighington hopes to be involved in the ground-breaking rugby league Test to be played in America in June and has called on NRL clubs to support the concept.
England will play New Zealand on June 23 at the Mile High Stadium – home of 2016 NFL Super Bowl champions the Denver Broncos – in a clash that has already earned the ire of NRL coaches and officials, citing player-welfare issues, especially relating to playing at high altitude.
The Test will be staged in between Newcastle’s round-15 and round-16 games, against Melbourne (June 17) and Canterbury (June 30) respectively, and Heighington said he was hoping to represent England again.
The Central Coast product has appeared at international level seven times, including during last year’s World Cup campaign, when the Lions lost the tournament decider 6-0 to Australia.
“I think it’s good,” he said.
“The NRL should be behind the international game. It is a bit of a State of Origin-type thing for all the English players and the Kiwis.
“I think it’s a good game and they should be having it and it should be on. It’ll be a good spectacle.”
The 36-year-old, the NRL’s second-oldest current player after his former Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, said it would be “a great experience” to play a game in America, but admitted he had not yet broached the subject with Knights coach Nathan Brown.
“I was obviously born here, but Dad’s English, so I’ve got English in there somewhere,” he said. “I’m not bending any rules or anything. It gave me the opportunity to test myself at the highest level, so I took that.”
Heighington’s immediate focus is helping Newcastle bounce back to the winners’ circle in Tamworth on Saturday, when they tackle the club with whom he launched his 16-season NRL career, Wests Tigers.
Heighington played 201 games for the Tigers, including their 2005 grand final triumph, the vast majority of them alongside mercurial five-eighth Benji Marshall.
After stints with Auckland Blues, St George Illawarra and Brisbane, Marshall has been a revelation since returning to the Tigers this season. The Tigers have won five of their first six games this season, and their only defeat was after game-breaking a Brisbane penalty goal in round three that NRL officials subsequently admitted should not have been awarded.
“I played nearly 200 games with Benji, so I know him very well, and I know how he plays,” Heighington said.
“He’s playing really good footy at the moment. He scored two good tries [in the 38-12 win against Manly on Sunday], so he’s one of their danger men and we’re going to be have to be on our game to minimise his involvement.”
Newcastle have noted the Tigers’ defensive resolve.
In their six games, Ivan Cleary’s rebuilt side have conceded a miserly 67 points, 14 points fewer than the next-best defensive team, premiers Melbourne.