Jason Nightingale typically flies under the radar compared to Kiwis wing rival Manu Vatuvei, though finding rarefied air at Shark Park last month ensures his profile has risen significantly heading into tomorrow's Anzac Test in Canberra.
An automatic choice in the New Zealand rugby league team when available, the 26-year-old Waikato-born, Sydney-raised back is hardly ever considered among the NRL's eye-catching finishers alongside Akuila Uate, Nathan Merritt and, when on form, "The Beast" Vatuvei.
Instead Nightingale, who plays his 17th test when the trans-Tasman rivals met in the Australian capital for the first time, is better known for his awkward gait, an unorthodox forward-leaning, back-kicking running style.
But he invariably puts his best foot forward for St George Illawarra and the Kiwis, teams where he is regarded as the ultra-reliable, consummate pro.
Nightingale has scored 60 tries in 139 first grade games and although a double in the 2010 Grand Final win against the Sydney Roosters is an enduring memory for Dragons fans, his gravity-defying, acrobatic touchdown against the Cronulla Sharks on March 30 garnered wider acclaim.
It was only round four of the Premiership race but it will surely take another superhuman feat to eclipse Nightingale's outrageous finish.
A forward-thinking character, Nightingale admitted to watching replays of his successful evasion of the Sharks' Auckland-born centre Matthew Wright.
Not that it's in his highlights reel just yet.
"I've only seen it for the day or two it was on the news," he said.
"I'm sure I'll look at it later on in my career, it's something to look back on and cherish."
Pressed for an explanation on how he managed to twist in mid-air before pressing the ball down a moment later, Nightingale shrugged and suggested instinct.
"It's something you think about for a split-second as you're going towards the line and now they've taken the corner posts out (as a barrier), it allows you to do things like that.
"It's the desperation that is needed and it's the kind of try we're expected to score, as wingers, after all the hard work is done on the inside. It was a pretty big try in the game."
That game was won by the Dragons 25-12, their first victory of the season.
"It looked a lot more spectacular than it actually felt," he said, again downplaying his abilities.
"The only thing that matter's is the ball hits the ground first. It's still four points, it doesn't matter how it looks."
Nightingale, who also scored a crucial try in the Kiwis' last win over the Kangaroos - an unexpected Four Nations title triumph in 2010 - was staying typically grounded despite his achievement.
"It's not as though I'm a better player or anything," he said.
"While I definitely don't think I'm underrated, it's a tag that goes up or down depending upon your performance of a weekend.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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