"I have heard something," a voice says so softly barely a soul could hear it.
"Mitchell Cornish is out."
Disbelief was the resounding sentiment when word slowly began spreading around Seiffert Oval ahead of the Canberra Raiders Cup grand final on Sunday.
Well, not for Queanbeyan Blues player-coach Terry Campese. He already knew - but there was no way he would tell his players.
The Goulburn Bulldogs five-eighth, who little more than a week prior had claimed the Les McIntyre Medal as the competition's player of the year, was out of the biggest game of the season.
His absence proved telling as the Blues surged to a 34-14 grand final triumph over the Bulldogs.
Cornish had throat surgery just days before the game and Goulburn players and coaches had done all they could to keep it under wraps.
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They even went to such lengths as to have Cornish suit up - boots and all - for the pre-game warm-up. But before long the hoodie came on and he could do little more than offer words of advice for his teammates.
"I heard it early in the week and I kept it as a secret from the boys," Campese said.
"I didn't want them to come into the game thinking it was already won. As soon as they saw him with a beer in his hand in the grandstand before the game they started talking."
The Blues landed the first blow through hooker Zac Patch but Goulburn soon hit back - it wasn't as if a side that had piled on 84 points across two sudden-death finals games was going to roll over.
Tyler Cornish split the Queanbeyan defence and find his little brother Nick Cornish on his inside to score Goulburn's first try of the game.
Then it was Steven Cummins - the league's leading try scorer no less - proving this Goulburn outfit was not here to simply make up the numbers.
Queanbeyan hit back to take a four-point advantage into the break and a moment of brilliance from captain Jake Wheeler would ultimately put the Blues on course for a clinical second stanza soon after.
From there it proved to be one-way traffic, and those that saw the loss of Cornish as too big a hurdle to overcome were validated.
"He's the McIntyre Medal winner so it was always going to be tough for us," Goulburn coach Adam Kyle said.
"We tried really hard but you can't turn over that much ball. We knew Mitch was gone on Monday morning.
"We trained all week and the boys that came in for him did a wonderful job, but when you take a halfback of his quality out, you are always going to struggle.
"You could see that in our attack, we just never really got going."
The loss was Goulburn's third from as many attempts across various grades on the competition's biggest day.
Skipper Matthew Worboys says the way they respond next season will define the character of the Bulldogs.
But two mainstays that were there for the club's last premiership in 2009 likely won't be there to play a role.
"Shane McCallum and Michael Dodson are both hanging them up," Kyle said.
"Doddo is a legend of the game, and I'm really sad we unfortunately couldn't send them out on a winning note."
AT A GLANCE
Canberra Raiders Cup - QUEANBEYAN BLUES 34 (Zac Patch, Josh Hitchins, Josh Stuckey, Jake Wheeler, Matt Parsons, Aisea Taholo tries; Terry Campese 5 goals) GOULBURN BULLDOGS 14 (Nick Cornish, Steven Cummins, Iziah Tittor tries; Chris Hart goal) at Seiffert Oval. Man of the match: Josh Stuckey (Queanbeyan Blues).
CRRL reserve grade - WEST BELCONNEN WARRIORS 20 (Bayley Graham 2, Beau McFarlane, James Gardner tries; Bayley Graham 2 goals)bt QUEANBEYAN KANGAROOS 16 (Jordan Macey, Mitchell Sullivan, Travis Robinson tries; Rhys Elton 2 goals). Man of the match: Bayley Graham (West Belconnen Warriors).
CRRL under 19s - QUEANBEYAN BLUES 26 (Adam Barlow 2, Linkin Bradley, Willie Delamere, Ashton Naidu tries; Ashton Naidu 3 goals) bt GOULBURN BULLDOGS 10 (Kody Tozer 2 tries; Max Flack goal). Man of the match: Linkin Bradley (Queanbeyan Blues).
CRRL League Tag - WEST BELCONNEN WARRIORS 8 (Courney Watt, Jessica Goss tries) bt GOULBURN BULLDOGS 6 (Amy Day try; Amy Day goal). Player of the match: Krystal Coker (West Belconnen Warriors).