1st May 2018, 16:15 | steve_mascord



Steve Mascord catches up with the Newcastle Knights and England forward

AT 36, England second rower Chris Heighington knows he's no chance of playing in the next World Cup. But when it comes to the upcoming four games against New Zealand, he'll be there with the proverbial bells on, if selected.

rugby-league.com: Your new club, Newcastle, are in the top eight after eight rounds. Has that exceeded your expectations when you joined them?

Chris Heighington: "I think it's right on, to be honest. We had a lot of new signings, we knew we had to get the combinations right. Now we're doing that I think it's showing in our results. Losing Mitchell Pearce (for four months with a pectoral muscle injury) isn't the best. But yeah, I reckon we're about where I thought we'd be."

RLC: What's it like living in such a big rugby league city?

CH: "Yeah, it's a good spot. They love their footy, nice beaches and stuff. Our home games are averaging about 20,000 so it's always good play in front of so many home fans."

RLC: Have you had much contact with Wayne Bennett yet this year, or had much to do with the England set-up?

CH: "Nah, nah. I'm just in a Whatsapp group and we communicate on that. The World Cup, I had a great time and met a lot of wonderful people. We did well, fell a bit short in the final."

RLC: With Denver, are you glad that's all squared away now, that there's no doubt about the Test taking place?

CH: "Yeah, I just think it's a great opportunity for England and New Zealand to have a State Of Origin-type thing, you know? And for the international game, it makes sense to have more players playing more. You've got State of Origin every year and it's just better for the international game when you've got Samoa and Tonga going well as well and the players committing to Tonga, you know? It makes it a stronger international game and you want it strong, don't you?"

RLC: Did you have discussions with your club about Denver?

CH: "No I haven't. I haven't really spoken to them about it, to be honest. I know Sammy Burgess spoke to Souths and on the Whatsapp he was updating us about what is happening."

RLC: How much do you know about the travel arrangements and when the team's being picked?

CH: "Yeah, not a heap actually. They just wanted us to get the visa in case we're picked. I'm not worried about the flight, I've travelled further before. I won't worry too much about that."

RLC: What about the Kiwi series at the end of the year? Is that in the back of your mind that you might be back over here playing in that?

CH: "Yeah, I'd love to go if I'm picked. I played in the Four Nations over there previously. We'll see what Wayne wants to do but I had a real good time with some great people. It would be great to get picked again."

RLC: I think it was at the World Club Challenge in 2006 that you first said you were eligible to play for England and keen. When did someone first make contact with you and who was it?

CH: "It was Steve McNamara, the coach. It was 2010, 2011. I committed in 2011. Then I got the opportunity to play under Wayne in that mid-season Test (in 2017) and there was a good vibe and then there was the World Cup last year. It's been a fantastic experience. The next World Cup? I don't think so. But never say never, haha."

RLC: For the people who don't know how you qualify, can you go through it again?

CH: "Yeah, so my dad's from Durham and they all came over as a family 40 years ago. There's this one village in Durham, I was able to go visit it when I was over for the World Club Challenge. Dad (Tom) is a proud Englishman. I asked he what he thought about me doing this and he was pretty much 'you have to'. He didn't want to hear a 'no'. He pretty much made me do it, he's so passionate. It's a great opportunity, to be honest. All the boys welcomed me in and I try my best for the team and the jumper."