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This week in history: Healey surpasses Sorensen

During this week in 2000, local hero Mitch Healey became the second-most capped first-grade player in Sharks history, surpassing Dane Sorensen's mark of 216 matches.

In his 12th and final season, Healey achieved the milestone on June 12 in a Round 19 clash with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

A local junior from the Engadine Dragons club, Healey progressed comfortably through the grades at Cronulla before making his first-grade debut in 1989 in the Sharks' Round 17 match against the Bulldogs. This was Healey's sole appearance in the top grade that year but his versatility and astute kicking game suggested the young playmaker had a bright future.

At the start of the 1990 season, an injury to incumbent five-eighth Michael Speechley presented an opportunity for Healey to partner new signing Laurie Spina in the halves. Healey turned in impressive performances as the Sharks won their first two matches comprehensively.

In Round 3, coach Alan Fitzgibbon recalled Speechley with Healey preferred as a utility off the bench, a role he played for the remainder of that season. At year's end, Sharks chief executive Ron Massey said of Healey: "Mitch is a talented ball-player who is a good link man to the outside backs."

As was the common theme through the club in the '80s and early '90s, financial strain meant Cronulla was unable to chase any big-name signings for the '91 season, instead opting to nurture local talent in the form of Healey, Chris Quinn, Aaron Raper, Robbie Kearns and Luke Massey.

1991 saw Healey in and out of the top grade, quite often a victim of his versatility as he was used by Fitzgibbon to fill a number of positions.

1992 was the season Healey cemented himself as a first-grade footballer. Despite the overall poor performance of the Sharks, finishing the season in 13th position, Healey played 21 matches, a testament to his durability. Healey finished that season as the Sharks' top point-scorer with 58 points.

Healey's best year was arguably 1993, when he finished third in the coveted Dally M Medal count behind winner Ricky Stuart and runner-up Ian Roberts.

"I got invited out to the semi finals at the footy stadium (Sydney Football Stadium) and that's where they presented the awards," Healey said.

"I didn't realise that that's what it was for. It was actually Tony Adams from the Telegraph that told me I ended up coming third, and that's why I'd been invited there that day."

His status as one of the game's top playmakers led to the North Queensland Cowboys chasing Healey's signature. The new franchise scouted Healey as the player they wanted to steer the team around the paddock in their inaugural season.

"Artie Beetson was coaching us in '93. Towards the end of that season, they were bringing Langy (John Lang) and Richo (Shane Richardson) down," Healey said.

"North Queensland were coming in in '95, but they wanted me to sign 18 months out. I wasn't ready to make that commitment with a new club or a new franchise at that time and wanted to see what Richo and Langy were like when they came in, and I'm glad I stayed around, because my career might not have been as long as it was had I left."

Through the mid '90s, Healey steadily honed his craft. His partnership at the scrum base with Paul Green and later Adam Dykes resulted in the Sharks making the finals in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000. A feature of Healey's play was his ability to launch a towering bomb, landing it on the goal-line for outside backs Andrew Ettingshausen, Richie Barnett, Mat Rogers, David Peachey and co to reap reward.

During this week, in the Round 19 match played on June 12 2000, Healey played game number 217, surpassing Sorensen and taking him to second on the list behind Ettingshausen for most first-grade games played for the Sharks.

Played at Stadium Australia in Homebush, the match saw a halves pairing of Adam Dykes and Blaine Stanley with Healey preferred on the bench by Sharks coach Lang. After starting the year as halfback, Lang used a number of different playmakers in the number seven jersey, switching between Healey, Jason Ferris and Stanley.

Played before 13,269 people, Cronulla were too good for the Bulldogs, running out 26-14 winners in what was an otherwise uneventful encounter.

Poetically, Healey was recalled to the starting side for his farewell match, played before a full house at Toyota Stadium, now named PointsBet Stadium, in the Round 25 fixture. The match saw Cronulla beat the Parramatta Eels 34-18 with Healey crossing for a try in what was a bittersweet afternoon for the veteran.

Post-match, Healey was charged for a tackle on Eels fullback Brett Hodgson and subsequently banned for three matches, the first suspension of Healey's 13-year career. The ban brought down the curtain on what was a remarkable career with the black, white and blue. Healey finished with 222 first-grade matches, now fifth on the all-time list for the Sharks.

Reflecting on his time with the Sharks, Healey stated: "It was always a goal for me to play for Cronulla. Coming through the grades, there were a lot of really good local juniors. The club didn't have a lot of money, so they probably didn't have too many choices, but to be fair the local A grade comp was very competitive which helped a lot."

Healey has remained very much connected to the club as an assistant with the Sharks Jersey Flegg side and as a keen supporter of his son Sam Healey, who like his father is forging a career through the lower grades and feeder club the Newtown Jets.

FACT FILE - Mitch Healey

Born: 11 May 1969 in Sydney NSW

Positions: Halfback, five-eighth, fullback, hooker, lock

Nickname: Casper

Playing height and weight: 175cm 79kg

Years at club: 1988-2000

Player no: 247

Games for club: 261 (222 in first grade, 13 in reserve grade and 26 in Under 21s)

Debut: Round 17 Sunday, 23 July 1989 against Canterbury at Caltex Field (as a substitute in the 70th minute)

Last game: Round 25 Sunday, July 23rd, 2000, R22 vs Parramatta at Toyota Park

Statistics for Cronulla: 33 tries, 139 goals and eight field goals for 418 points in first grade. He scored a further 29 points in lower grades, 17 in reserve grade and 12 in Presidents Cup

English club: Castleford 2001-03: 76 games, 11 tries, 16 goals and two field goals for 78 points

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 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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