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Lawrence: Why Heighington is so important

One of the greatest compliments that a player can receive is being branded as a person that every teammate wanted to play alongside. Chris Heighington was one of those rare individuals.

Stand by me: Premiership-winners in 2005
Stand by me: Premiership-winners in 2005

The man known as ‘Heighno’ was a history-maker. He was part of the squad that won the Wests Tigers’ maiden title in 2005, before shifting to Cronulla and helping the Sharks break their premiership drought in 2016.

Party time: Pat Richards, Chris Heighington and John Skandalis rejoice
Party time: Pat Richards, Chris Heighington and John Skandalis rejoice

However, few knew of the extraordinary resilience that Chris Heighington demonstrated on a daily basis.

From catching a ferry and multiple buses to get to training from his home on the Central Coast to playing 338 games over 16 seasons in one of the toughest sports in the world, the middle forward embodied the professionalism required of athletes in the modern era.

The ultimate professional

Chris Heighington understood that being in a professional sporting team required more than individual preparation. He knew that the connections formed between teammates were the glue of any team he played within.

Milestone men: Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis and Benji Marshall
Milestone men: Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis and Benji Marshall

Wests Tigers legend Chris Lawrence, who is now the managing director of One Wellbeing and One Training, played alongside Heighington for seven seasons and believes that the lock-forward taught him what it took to become a professional.

Chris Lawrence & Chris Heighington at the Zurich Centre
Chris Lawrence & Chris Heighington at the Zurich Centre

Pointing to his famous swimming pool lung buster routines on his days off, Lawrence says that Heighington showed his teammates how to walk out onto the field every week knowing that they had prepared their best, and walk back off knowing they gave it everything they had.

Despite this, Lawrence believes that Heighington’s biggest lesson for his teammates was how to enjoy the company they held.

“He taught us how to embrace the locker room banter and the mateship that forms in close knit teams," said Lawrence.

"Heighno led the coffee crew and even introduced this kid from Campbelltown to a coffee, or two, or three, each day.”

Lawrence even recalls the infamous tale of Heighington changing his age on Wikipedia to convince the Sharks to give him an extra year on his contract. 

Whether completely true or not, there was probably no need given he would go on to play for a further six seasons in the league before eventually hanging up the boots in 2018.

Transitioning out of rugby league

While Heighington taught Lawrence a lot about rugby league, he wasn’t afraid to lean on his teammates to discuss life after football as he neared retirement.

Final season: Heighington lines up against former teammates Robbie Farah & Benji Marshall
Final season: Heighington lines up against former teammates Robbie Farah & Benji Marshall

“Towards the backend of his career, Heighno started assisting his good friend and former professional surfer Glenn Hall train young and up-and-coming surfers,” Lawrence explained.

“He approached me about completing some formal qualifications so he could have a better grounding to help these athletes.”

Heighington went on to complete his Certificate III and Certificate IV in Fitness through Lawrence’s companies One Wellbeing and One Training, which provide freedom for life after sport and empower their communities to reach new heights through a tailored approach to learning.

These qualifications allowed Heighington to smoothly transition out of the game and into his new venture, Chris Heighington Sports Performance, which sees him coach and mentor athletes from a range of sports including rugby league, surfing, cricket, soccer and skateboarding.

A little goofy: Heighington the surfer
A little goofy: Heighington the surfer

One of the most notable athletes Heighington has worked alongside is young female surfer Molly Picklum.

Hailing from a similar area to Heighington on the Central Coast, Picklum has cracked into the professional surfing ranks as one of Australia’s best up-and-coming talents. She recently won the Pipe Masters, with the 20-year-old becoming the first non-Hawaiian woman to win the prestigious event in Oahu.

Lawrence says that Picklum is just one example of a young athlete being able to live out their dreams as a professional under the guidance of ‘Heighno’, and believes that there are likely many more waiting in the wings. 

Back where it all began

Now, almost two decades later, Chris Heighington’s career has come full circle as he returns to Concord in a new role as NRL Assistant / Pathways Performance Coordinator.

His return is a testament to his hard work both on and off the field, as well as his commitment to mentoring the next generation of athletes and teaching them the requirements of a career in professional sport.

Lawrence believes that the ambition, drive and resilience that served Heighington so well throughout his playing career are sure to lead him to success in his new position. 

He says that it’s no surprise that with the appointment of “The Big Three’ of Tim Sheens, Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, as well as Head of High Performance Peter Moussa, one of the first additions to their team was Heighington.

“As influential as those guys will be to the resurgence of the Wests Tigers, I am just as confident that having Heighno mentor the young athletes coming through will allow them to have long and successful careers,” Lawrence said.

Ultimately, for young athletes looking for inspiration for a holistic career, which includes professionalism on and off the field and a successful transition out of sport, they need to look no further than the man they call Heighno.

Acknowledgement of Country

Wests Tigers respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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