RIGHT to the end, Chris Heighington remained a warrior, and a team man.
With just seconds remaining in the 338th, and last, game of his 16-season NR career, the veteran Newcastle forward took exception to a tackle that left rookie Knights teammate Tom Starling injured.
Instantly Heighington was at loggerheads with the St George Illawarra players he felt was responsible, in particular NSW Origin lock Jack de Belin.
Then the full-time siren sounded and 36-year-old “Heighno”, a premiership winner with Wests Tigers in 2005 and Cronulla in 2016, was officially an ex-player.
He spent only one season with Newcastle, making 21 appearances off the bench, but few players in the club’s history will be more warmly remembered by their teammates.
“He’s been huge for the club,” Knights captain Mitchell Pearce said of Heighington.
“Obviously every club he’s been to, no one ever has a bad word to say about him.
“He’s done a hell of a lot off the field here, and he’s a real goer. A guy who’s played as many games as he has, obviously he’s built his game on being a competitor and a goer. He’s achieved a hell of a lot in the game, and he’s brought a positive attitude every day to training.
“He’ll be a mate of the boys for a long time … unfortunately we couldn’t get a win for him.”
Heighington bowed out with a 25-minute stint off the bench, a cameo appearance made necessary because he carried a knee injury into his last-ever game.
“It’s probably sinking in a little bit now,” he said after the game.
“Seeing all my family and friends after the game, and going around the crowd, thanking everyone, it gets a bit emotional, but you’ve got to retire at some stage.”
Heighington said a pre-match pep talk from Knights legend Robbie O’Davis was a touching gesture.
“Robbie was someone I used to watch play when I was a kid, and he said a few words that I’ll probably remember for a long time,” he said.
“He was really passionate, and then walking out through the Old Boys, that was an unreal feeling.”