Wests Tigers back-rower Chris Heighington has officially scrapped an option to represent England, hoping an overhaul of the NSW State of Origin set-up and appointment of new coach Ricky Stuart can lead to an overdue representative call-up this year.
The 28-year-old had weighed up accepting an offer to make himself available for England selection after he and Tigers coach Tim Sheens voiced frustration at his continually being overlooked by selectors.
Heighington was even snubbed by Country Origin last year, leading England coach Steve McNamara to contact the forward’s English teammate Gareth Ellis and Tigers assistant coach Royce Simmons about switching allegiances.
After much contemplation, Heighington has chosen not to go down that path, although he said he would have been proud to play for England, where his father Tom hails from. A major contributor to the decision was his selection in Stuart’s 51-man ”Blues-in-waiting” squad that gathered last weekend for a two-day camp at Homebush Bay.
”It was an option there for me,” Heighington said of representing England. ”It’s one of those things, where my dad is from England, and I’m very proud of where he’s from. He’s always been a father that says do what you feel is best.
“He just doesn’t push me in any direction. He lets me do that. He’s been my inspiration thorough my career…It’s been a few years, and now I’ve got an opportunity, and there’s a new coach on board with Ricky Stuart and new coaching staff. There’s probably an opportunity in a couple of positions there but, in saying that, there’s a lot of good back-rowers in the NRL at the moment. I just have to play my best and see what happens.”
Heighington, who last October signed an extension that will keep him at the Tigers for at least three more seasons, said he had never received any feedback from representative selectors explaining why he was overlooked. Despite being one of the competition’s most consistent forwards, he has been picked for Country only once, in 2008, and played for the Prime Minister’s XIII twice, in 2008 and 2009.
Even so, he acknowledged his form must be outstanding this season to gain a look-in.
Heighington’s club coach Sheens, also the Australian coach, has long noted vocally that Tigers players copped a raw deal at the NSW and Test selection table. And it was Sheens, who after a comeback win over Canberra last June, warned that Heighington could swap national allegiances if he kept being left out.
”Tim has been great for me; he brought me from the [Central] Coast and gave me an opportunity, and now, nine years on, I’m still playing under him,” Heighington said. ”I owe a lot to him. He does go into bat for his players, and he’s been a great coach to me over the past nine years.”
Buford Balony says: Good, the POMS don’t deserve him.