LANCE THOMPSON knows exactly what it feels like to be unwanted and detached from a club where he had long envisaged spending his entire career.
Thompson has given hope to Cronulla-bound duo Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan as they deal with the realisation they will never pull on a Wests Tigers jersey again.
About this time in 2005, Thompson was unceremoniously dumped while still contracted by St George Illawarra after 11 years wearing the famous red and white strip in the top grade. ''It's tough, real tough,'' Thompson said.
''It's always sour and sad when you leave a club where you made your debut, especially because I was splashed around in the media every day and I was accused of stuff I didn't do. But it's a new beginning.''
Coincidentally, Heighington has made 201 appearances for the Tigers - the same number of matches Thompson played for the Dragons before he was moved on. Heighington leaves as the most-capped Wests Tigers player while Thompson played in two grand finals for the club he rose through as a junior.
''It won't hit home until he gets a jersey on and plays a trial,'' Thompson said. ''I'm sure Beau and Chris will be fine and they'll forget about the Tigers.
''They'll already be looking forward to that clash against the Tigers next year. I scored a try and kicked a goal in my first game against the Dragons, which we ended up winning. It was one of the games that stands out in my career.''
With Ryan in Papua New Guinea to play in the Prime Minister's XIII clash today, the pair aren't expected to be officially unveiled by the Sharks until late next week.
Thompson said they would receive a warm reception at the club where he played 38 first-grade games before retiring due to a knee injury in 2008.
''It was a lot different to the high pressure I was used to at the Dragons,'' said Thompson, who has just opened Thommo's Bar & Grill, a stone-throw away from Kogarah Oval. ''It's a laid-back club. They are very professional but they are all so welcoming and very humble guys.
''It could add a couple of years to [Heighington's] career. At least they were lucky enough that the Sharks wanted them and they are building a pretty good team.''
Thompson praised Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, who has attracted Ryan and Heighington plus representative players Michael Gordon and Luke Lewis from Penrith to the club as well as Canterbury under-20s back-rower Tupou Sopoaga.
''Flanno just wants to succeed,'' Thompson said. ''He is approachable and you can always talk to him. This year shows where he is and that is on the up.''
Meanwhile, Jeremy Smith is expected to announce a three-year deal with Newcastle this week.