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NRL's Sharks praise 300-gamer Heighington

NZN 31/03/2017 Steve Zemek

Even after reaching the prestigious 300 NRL game milestone and winning premierships with two clubs, Chris Heighington isn't satisfied.

The 35-year-old Cronulla workhorse will become the 26th player to join the elite 300-game club when he runs out for Saturday's clash with Newcastle at Southern Cross Group Stadium.

Despite not being a household name like fellow 300-gamers such as Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and Brad Fittler, Heighington has crammed a lot in to his 15 seasons in first grade.

Coach Shane Flanagan praised him as an ornament to the game and for the manner in which he refuses to rest on his achievements and is vocal in his belief he can win a third title with the Sharks.

"To win one premiership is an achievement but then to play 300 games and to win two comps," Flanagan said.

"Chris keeps talking about how he wants to win a third comp too.

"Hopefully it's this year for him."

Heighington made his debut in 2003 for Wests Tigers, helping to win the joint venture's first premiership two years later in a side led by Benji Marshall and Scott Prince.

Heighington will become just the third current player to pass the 300-game mark, along with Melbourne pair Smith and Cooper Cronk.

He is mulling over extending his career in 2018, a move that could see him break into the top 10 on the all-time games played list.

The Sharks will carry a do-it-for-Heino mentality into Saturday's clash and Flanagan hopes they can help him celebrate his achievement in style.

"We spoke about it during the week, about doing it for one of us," Flanagan said.

"He's an important part of our club and I don't think there's a more popular player in our club. He's a pleasure to be around and coach.

"It's an enormous achievement, especially in the forwards and the way he plays.

"And he's an ambassador, there have never been any troubles around Chris Heighington, he's a great footballer and great person."

Former Sharks forward Anthony Tupou will make his club debut for Newcastle in what will be his first game back in the NRL after a year in the English Super League.

Flanagan's side have won their past four match ups with the Knights by a combined 150-38 including their memorable 62-0 thumping in round 10 last year.

The Knights have looked a much improved outfit this year, however they fell back to earth with a 40-0 drubbing to Penrith last week.

"In general, young men in the NRL go through patches when they're not seasoned first graders," Flanagan said.

"We know with some of our young players they go through that purple patch of form but it does get a bit hard sometimes.

"That's just young men in first grade and (coach Nathan Brown) has a lot of them in Newcastle. And he's doing a good job up there."

STATS THAT MATTER

* The Sharks lost just one home match last year but are already 0-2 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in 2017.

* Newcastle have conceded at least 20 points in 22 straight matches, the longest streak in premiership history.

* The Sharks are preparing to celebrate 50 years since their first match in the competition - an 11-5 win over Eastern Suburbs at the Sports Ground played on April 2, 1967.

Source: Fox Sports Stats

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