Bayley Kuenzle could barely breathe. The Canberra Royals playmaker struggled to his knees and vomited on the Viking Park turf.
It seemed for a moment as though his John I Dent Cup grand final appearance would come to an early end after he was levelled in a tackle. Yet little more than an hour later he had a medal around his neck and a man of the match trophy to boot.
Kuenzle and halves partner Pedro Rolando combined to inspire the Canberra Royals to successive titles for the first time in 29 years with a 32-22 win over the Gungahlin Eagles on Saturday.
Judges scrambled to decide who indeed had the biggest impact. Kuenzle was a standout in the first half, terrorising the Eagles and scoring a superb individual try.
Rolando turned the match on a dime in the second stanza when he scored two tries in the space of three minutes, moments after Gungahlin had bombed a chance of their own.
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But it was perhaps one moment that secured the honour for the ACT Brumby. Gungahlin were surging with minutes remaining and looked guaranteed to score a try which would have made it a three-point game.
Then 20-year-old Kuenzle emerged to force an error and send Royals back to the summit in an effort which left coach Wayne Southwell "lost for words".
"I was pretty spent. Mack [Hansen] got me pretty much straight away, I was winded badly and had a bit of a spew there," Kuenzle said.
"My calves went with 10 minutes to go. I haven't played that much footy in about a month. We knew we had to come back against a quality Gungahlin side after losing by 62 points last time. It was just good to get out there, play some club footy and win another grand final. It was unreal.
"They're a special group of boys, they made me feel welcome as soon as I got down here. They deserve it. They've had a tough year and I'm just glad we can get the reward of winning a grand final and celebrate with a couple of beers."
Eagles captain James Dargaville's was forced out having signed a contract with a club in Japan. A late scramble to have him insured in case of injury went awry.
It pushed Tom Haddad to outside centre with Corey Toole recalled at right wing. Eagles coach Marco Caputo says Dargaville's absence hurt - but it wasn't the difference.
Royals led by eight when Eagles winger Jamie Kotz seemingly capped off a long-range effort to go over in the corner. But a last-ditch cover tackle from Royals skipper Ben Johnston forced the ball out.
Royals made Eagles pay for their bombed chance when scrumhalf Pedro Rolando burrowed his way over the line soon after. Three minutes later he did it again, and the Eagles' hopes of snapping a 17-year premiership drought slipped away.
"We got back in the game, we gave them a bit of a headstart, in the end it was four tries apiece. We levelled on the try sheet, two times we got held up over the line," Caputo said.
"On a different day a different match official gives you those. There's six tries there. We just didn't seem to get any of the 50-50s today, that was the difference.
"You get to the end and when those 50-50s go against you, they hurt."
Gungahlin's search for a drought-breaking premiership will stretch into an 18th year, for the Royals reign in Canberra once more.
AT A GLANCE
John I Dent Cup grand final: CANBERRA ROYALS 32 (Pedro Rolando 2, Penalty try, Bayley Kuenzle tries; Rolando 3 conversions; Rolando 2 penalties) bt GUNGAHLIN EAGLES 22 (Tom Haddad, Jake Helgesen, Isaac Crowe, Corey Toole tries; Matt Giteau conversion) at Viking Park.
ACT Women Premier XVs: CANBERRA ROYALS 15 (Louise Burrows, Brooke Gilroy tries; Ashlea Bishop conversion; Bishop penalty) bt UNI-NORTHS OWLS 12 (Siokapesi Palu, Rosaline Aumale tries; Sammie Wood conversion) at Viking Park.
Spence Cup: GUNGAHLIN EAGLES 19 bt TUGGERANONG VIKINGS 10
Colts: QUEANBEYAN WHITES 27 bt CANBERRA ROYALS 7
Third grade: GUNGAHLIN EAGLES 22 bt WESTS LIONS 7
Fourth grade: QUEANBEYAN WHITES 43 bt WESTS LIONS 5