Rugby: 'Mule' set for game 100

Highlanders prop Chris King lifts a team-mate at training at Logan Park this week. Photo by Peter...
Highlanders prop Chris King lifts a team-mate at training at Logan Park this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Chris King is about to bring up a century of games at Super rugby level and has no intention of stopping any time soon.

King, who played 16 times for the Crusaders before heading south in 2005, will play his 100th game of Super rugby when he runs on to Waikato Stadium tonight as the Highlanders take on the Chiefs.

The man they call Mule admits getting to the ton at this level is something to get the heart pumping.

''I am excited. It is a thing that has played in the back of my mind for the past few weeks and getting there is a great achievement.

''The wife [Emma] will probably come along, as it is not every day you get to play 100 games. But you can't think about it too much. You have got to get on with the job ...in hand.''

King (31) made his debut in 2003, in the opening game of the season, coming off the bench for the Crusaders in a win over the Hurricanes. He shifted to the Highlanders in 2005 and has been a fixture in the squad since.

He moved from the Crusaders with the likes of Greg Somerville and Greg Feek in front of him, only to arrive in the south to find Carl Hoeft and Carl Hayman blocking his way.

''I go back to 2004 and those times when I was with the Crusaders I wondered if I would even get close to 50 games.

''A lot of guys have asked why I haven't gone overseas but I have always enjoyed it and the family has always liked it. That is the main reason, really.

''I have been lucky enough to be involved in other teams - Otago, Southland and Taranaki. That has helped me stay here. Moving to different provinces has kept me fresh and wanting to come back here.''

As is the way of modern rugby and rotation, King, who grew up in Mid Canterbury, has spent plenty of time coming off the bench. Of his 100 games, 49 have been as a substitute.

''The speed of the game has definitely changed. Everything is much more physical and more professional. Just the amount of stuff you do on and off the field. The amount of homework you have to do. Guys in general are a lot bigger and faster.

''I'm still enjoying it. I don't think age is a factor. It is a job for us. If you are not happy in your job you should not carry on. But I'm happy in my job and I want to carry on.''

King savoured victories over any Crusaders team and also rated the win over the Bulls in Pretoria in 2011, when Jamie Joseph had just come on board.

King has played both sides of the scrum, but is more of a tighthead these days.

The Highlanders will be keen to mark the occasion of King's century with a victory but it is going to be tough. The side is boosted by the return of Ma'a Nonu to the midfield as he has recovered from a knee injury.

Brad Thorn has been given the captaincy, with Josh Bekhuis coming back into the side and Jarrad Hoeata moving to blindside. Liam Coltman starts at hooker, and Jason Emery retains his place at centre.

The Highlanders are entering do-or-die territory after three losses to start the season.

In a quirk of the draw, it will be the second time the sides have met in a month. The Chiefs won 41-27 in Dunedin on February 22.


Highlanders
The 100 club

127 Anton Oliver
108 Jimmy Cowan
99 Chris King (plays 100th game tonight; total includes games for Crusaders)


Highlanders v Chiefs
Hamilton, tonight, 7.35pm

Referee: Jonathon White (Auckland)
TAB odds: Chiefs $1.27, Highlanders $3.50

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Brad Thorn (captain), Chris King, Liam Coltman, Chris King.
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Joe Wheeler, Tim Boys, Frae Wilson, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.

Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Nick Crosswell, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (captain), Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Afeaki, Romano Graham, Tanerau Latimer, August Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Richard Kahui.


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