CRONULLA second row Chris Heighington is the last man standing with every other member of England coach Wayne Bennett’s prospective World Cup squad missing out on the NRL finals.
South Sydney’s Burgess brothers, Canterbury’s James Graham, Gold Coast’s Joe Greenwood and Chris McQueen and Canberra’s Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead knew the final round of the regular season at the weekend would be their last action until the global showpiece kicks off.
But St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop was almost inconsolable as St George Illawarra was beaten 26-20 by Graham’s Bulldogs in a game the Dragons had to win to stay alive.
TOM BURGESS: 153 metres and 28 tackles in 52 minutes against Parramatta
JAMES GRAHAM: Led his current club Canterbury to a 26-20 win over his likely new club,St George Illawarra, with 102 metres and 26 tackles
“We play the game to play finals and, effectively, the year’s a failure,” Widdop said.
“We started to do that, we had a good opportunity tonight and in the end we weren’t good enough. We’ve got to learn from this.
“We played some good football, that’s for sure. We certainly improved on last year. But you want to play finals and we didn’t.
“We had a fair few debutants this year, it was good for the club but on the whole and in the big scheme of things …. we didn’t make the finals.”
Graham is tipped to join Widdop at the joint venture club next season.
CHRIS HEIGHINGTON: Just 22 minutes off the bench against Newcastle, making 14 tackles and 48 metres
JOSH HODGSON: 77 metres and 29 tackles in a 75 minute stint for Canberra against Melbourne at AAMI Park
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said: “There’s talk about everyone. Last year we signed three players no-one thought we were going to sign. I’ll wait until it’s done.
“He’s a current international, he’s inspirational the way he plays and he’s very passionate in what he does. But at the moment, it’s only speculation.”
While Graham was similarly unable to confirm it was his last game in blue and white, he became emotional in discussing the departure of team-mate Josh Reynolds.
“It’s a made-up game with made-up rules but it just has these mad emotions attached to it, doesn’t it?” Graham said.
“It brings you close with people from the other side of the world.”
Asked what it would be like to play against his mate, Graham said: “I’ll be watching his trip”
Reynolds, in reference to Graham’s 12-game ban for biting Billy Slater in 2012, hit back: “I’ll be watching the ears”
Heighington carries English hopes into the play-offs on Sunday against North Queensland.
ELLIOTT WHITEHEAD: On the bench for a change, still made 37 tackles and 86 metres in the 32-6 defeat
GEORGE BURGESS: 56 metres and 20 tackles in 35 minutes at ANZ Stadium