Tom Haddad can still picture the tackle that changed everything as he sits in the second row of an aluminium grandstand at Nicholls Oval.
"Someone made a break on the wing just here," the Gungahlin Eagles winger said.
"I was playing fullback at the time so I was coming across to make a cover tackle. All my mates were there, and I'm like 'alright, I'm going to try to put a shot on here'.
"I was going 100, he was going 100, he stepped in and his shoulder smacked my jaw. At the time I thought I was just dazed.
"Then I got up and all this blood starting coming out of my mouth and I knew something was bad there."
MORE JOHN I DENT CUP
The rising star had broken his jaw in two places. He was rushed to hospital for surgery and had it wired shut for eight weeks. For two months he was eating and drinking through a straw.
"Mum would whip up scrambled eggs, it was rank, and I would get through them. I would smash potato and gravy from KFC, I haven't eaten potato and gravy from KFC ever since, I'm over it, had too much of it," Haddad laughed.
Yet all the twists, turns and rank smoothies along the way have led Haddad to this moment: a John I Dent Cup grand final appearance for Gungahlin against the Canberra Royals at Viking Park on Saturday.
The whirlwind journey doesn't stop at last year's broken jaw. The Australian sevens youth representative has long been on the ACT Brumbies' radar and a chance to represent the Junior Wallabies was on the horizon this year.
His sights were set on the under-20s world championship in Italy before he hit another hurdle - the coronavirus pandemic saw the tournament cancelled.
Rather than drop his head, Haddad continued to chase the dream. He spent a month training with the Brumbies' full-time squad when Super Rugby shut down before returning to the Eagles to earn a first grade debut.
Now he is emerging as the rising star to watch in a backline boasting Wallabies legend Matt Giteau, and a Super Rugby-capped trio in James Dargaville, Mack Hansen and Issak Fines.
Jamie Kotz played Australian under-20s and NRC for the Canberra Vikings. Matt Hawke has spent time in the Brumbies' system. Now Haddad wants to take his chance.
"It's pretty crazy, growing up watching Giteau play when you're a young kid and he's carving up in Super Rugby and for the Wallabies," Haddad said.
"Today, to be playing with him, it's really crazy. It's good though, you've got all of those boys, sit back and go with the flow and just do your job.
"It makes it nerve-wracking, but I'd rather have them on my team than against us."
Together they will look to end Gungahlin's 17-year premiership drought. For an idea of just how much this means, Haddad only has to think back to when the Eagles clinched a grand final berth a week ago.
"You see everyone who has played for the club. You hug people you've never met before and talk to people you've never talked to before," Haddad said.
"The last time we won a grand final was 2003, so there have been a lot of players who have played heaps of games and never got the opportunity we've got this weekend.
"We owe it to them and to everybody to get the job done."
JOHN I DENT CUP GRAND FINAL DAY
Saturday at Viking Park: John I Dent Cup - Canberra Royals v Gungahlin Eagles on field one, 3.15pm.
ACT Women Premier XVs - Uni-Norths Owls v Canberra Royals on field one, 5.30pm.
Spence Cup [second grade] - Gungahlin Eagles v Tuggeranong Vikings on field one, 1.20pm.
Colts - Queanbeyan Whites v Canberra Royals on field one, 11am.
Third grade - Gungahlin Eagles v Wests Lions on field two, 11.40am.
Fourth grade - Queanbeyan Whites v Wests Lions on field two, 9.30am.