Canberra Raiders fullback Jordan Rapana played 25 minutes against St George Illawarra with a fractured skull, and has been told he would risk damage to his brain if he played on this year.
Rapana has been ruled out for the rest of the season after he fractured the supraorbital part of his skull trying to stop Dragons centre Peter Mata'utia scoring a try in the 55th minute at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Despite the seriousness of the injury, Rapana said he laughed in disbelief when told the diagnosis on Monday, and asked doctors to check again.
It is a cruel blow for the 24-year-old, who was playing just his second NRL match in six years the day after his 25th birthday.
"I asked the physio and doctor if I could play these next three games [left in the season], but they said 'mate, it's pretty much suicide, if you get a knock on that it's goodbye to your brain','' Rapana said.
"I can still feel the hole now. If I run my hand along my forehead you can feel a massive hole in there where it's all soft. It's like you're rubbing the top of a baby's head after it's born.
"I was very surprised, I asked them to check again. They said you've got a hole in your head, and it's caved in. I was going about my daily routine over the weekend walking around with a fractured skull, and I didn't even know.
"I'm obviously very disappointed I'm out, it was an opportunity I wanted to take and show I can be worthy of that position next year.''
Rapana said he answered concussion questions correctly when assessed by Raiders medical staff, and the injury was not visible at the time.
"I answered a lot of questions perfectly, he asked me how many tries I've scored and I said one,'' he said.
Raiders prop Brett White has been ruled out for one to two weeks after playing with a groin strain against the Dragons, which he suffered at kick-off, adding to a lengthy injury list.
Canberra has confirmed it will investigate the possibility of applying to the NRL for dispensation to play some players outside their top-25 squad against Cronulla on Sunday, given both teams can't make finals.
Rapana, not in Canberra's top-25, was given clearance to play against Parramatta last week despite the Raiders having exhausted the $440,000 salary cap.
Canberra plays fellow struggler Cronulla in a wooden-spoon battle on Sunday; and the Sharks also have a horror injury toll.
In round 24 last year, the NRL cleared Wests Tigers youngster Luke Brooks to play against the Dragons in a similar situation. But it is understood the NRL is less willing to do so again given the Dragons' complaints of the decision before and after the match.
"It would be fabulous to be able to blood some players and give them experience, but we also understand there's that salary-cap rule there and if we ask for dispensation there has to be a legitimate reason for it,'' Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.
"Once I get to the selection meeting [on Tuesday], if there's a legitimate reason to ask for dispensation for one of my other young players, I will.''
Stuart held a meeting with young halfback Mitch Cornish on Monday to tell him he will get more game time in Canberra's final three matches.
A decision is yet to be made whether he will be promoted from the bench to start, but it is an option if Anthony Milford returns to fullback to cover Rapana.
Cornish was on Monday slapped with grade-one dangerous-contact charge for a crusher tackle on Dragons winger Brett Morris, but will not be suspended if he takes an early guilty plea on Tuesday.
It is also believed the Raiders are considering appointing Josh McCrone and Jarrod Croker as co-captains if Terry Campese (oblique injury) does not return.
Round 24: Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders at Remondis Stadium, 2pm. TV: Live on Fox Sports 1.