By Chris Kennedy
National Correspondent - NRL.com
Veteran Sharks back-rower Chris Heighington says his coach Shane Flanagan has already told him to get his passport ready for a trip to Auckland in early February.
The rugged 32-year-old isn't exactly the prototype player that one would expect to dominate in the reduced and fast-paced format, but a series of hard-nosed efforts supported by whiz-kids Jack Bird and Val Holmes propelled Heighington into the 2015 Team of the Tournament, and his side into the weekend's finals.
The result was a hugely exciting but ultimately heartbreaking golden point loss to Souths, but the impressive weekend laid the platform for a season where the Sharks exceeded plenty of expectations to come within a win of finishing in the top four (albeit after a horror 0-4 start).
"Flanno has said I'm playing so I'm a bit nervous but it's a lot of fun and a bit different to 13 a side," Heighington told NRL.com.
"We took a few young kids who've come on through the Nines tournament so it's a good way for the young kids to come on as well. They can show their speed, their skills and show how much they want it.
"Jack Bird had a real good Nines tournament and Val obviously kicked that field goal from the sideline [to send the final into extra time] and took that into the NRL and won us a few games through field goals as well coming off his wing. They're both confident kids and it's good to have them around the Sharks."
Prompted about his own form, Heighington laughed: "Yeah I made the team of the tournament which was good, we made the final which was pretty exciting too – we went to golden point there and obviously didn't win. It put us into the pretty good year we had."
Off contract after 2016, Heighington said he hadn't given too much thought to his playing future beyond his current deal but is hoping another solid Nines outing will set him up for another solid season at NRL level.
"I haven't really [thought about it]; you can get caught up – a week's a long time in rugby league. I know it's a cliche but it really is. I'll just try and play good footy and see what happens after that.
"I really enjoyed the tournament [earlier this year] and didn't take it too seriously, just played footy which is the way I like doing it so hopefully I do well again."
*This article first appeared on NRL.COM