North Queensland Cowboys prop Shaun Fensom, who grew up on the Mid North Coast, was taken out of the National Rugby League grand final in a Medicab on Sunday night after breaking his leg in two places.
However, he was able to give the crowd, which included his mum Debbie Swanson and other family members, a thumbs-up to let them know he was ok.
The ex-Raiders and former Bellingen Magpies player broke both the tibia and fibula in his left leg when it was caught awkwardly under teammate Ethan Lowe’s body during a tackle in the third minute of the game.
Medical staff from both sides tended to Fensom, who pleaded for help immediately, obviously in a great deal of pain.
Play was delayed for nine minutes as the 28-year-old was dosed up on painkillers while his leg breaks were stabilised.
Fensom gestured to the crowd as he was carted off the field in a medicab, encouraging the North Queensland supporters at ANZ Stadium in Sydney to lift the decibel levels.
Fensom's injury was the beginning of the end for the Cowboys, who were forced to abandon their traditional interchange formula as rookie Coen Hess was thrown into the fray long before he expected.
Melbourne Storm, the favourites to win, proceeded to take out the premiership 34-6.
The premiership between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys was Fensom’s first top grade NRL grand final, in his first year with the Cowboys after a long and decorated career with the Canberra Raiders.
Before the game, his proud mum, Debbie Fensom, who works at the Urunga Pharmacy, had said she was excited and nervous.
“It’s hard to believe. Just thinking about it gets my stomach in knots,” Debbie told the Guardian.
Shaun is signed with the Cowboys until the end of next season, and like North Queensland’s unlikely passage to the decider from eighth position on the ladder, success has come on the back of grit and graft.
Playing as a lock or prop in the mid of the field – where “it’s full on”, quips Debbie – Shaun has had to overcome a string of injuries in recent seasons.
And while the headlines are mostly reserved for flashy halves and gazelle-like fullbacks, none of their magic can play out without the hard yakka of those in the middle.
For all that Shaun – who attended Repton and Urunga primary schools and Bellingen High – has never been entirely cloaked in anonymity.
In fantasy football, where statistics for tackling, minutes on the park, and hit ups rate highly, Shaun was god-like, and a ‘must have’ in any serious line-up.
And he has also tasted success in the matches that matter – celebrating a premiership in 2008 when he captained the Raiders in the first year of the Toyota Cup under 20s competition.
Shaun has also played rep – with the NSW Country Under 18s – from the humble beginnings as an eager pup with the Bellingen Magpies.