Zac Saddler thought it was just a routine concussion protocol test.
But in just his third NRL game in 2021, the former Manly Sea Eagle was shocked when the diagnosis came back as a fractured skull.
Saddler, now looking to revive his playing career with Tuggeranong Bushrangers in the Canberra Raiders Cup, had to be rushed to hospital over fears he had suffered a brain bleed in Manly's round 12 NRL clash against Newcastle last May.
"At the time when I headclashed I didn't think it was that bad. I never got concussed or anything like that. I thought it was just a bump to the head and just (HIA) protocol that I had to go off,'' Saddler said.
"The doctors were really good and I got rushed straight to hospital. They thought there was the possibility of a brain bleed. Once I got the scan and there was no bleeding it was just like a broken bone but with your head, so it is a bit more dangerous."
The injury ended Saddler's season. With the NRL relocating soon after to Queensland, and no reserve grade competitions in NSW at the height of the 2021 Delta COVID-19 crisis, the Sea Eagles didn't renew the 23-year-old's contract.
"It was only an 8-10 week recovery, so if the competition was still in Sydney or there was reserve grade, I could have been playing," Saddler said.
"I never got offered any extension, so it was a bit of a strange one. There were talks but nothing ever eventuated."
Struggling to find another club, Saddler moved south, signed with Tuggeranong, and is now chipping away as a carpenter.
"I was born in Bathurst but lived a fair bit of my life in Cooma when I was younger. My mum's still there," Saddler said.
"It was moreso I got a good job opportunity."
Saddler, fourth-placed in the Canberra Raiders Cup best and fairest standings, has shone in 2022 as captain of the ladder-leading Bushies.
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Tuggeranong has lost just once this season but Saddler felt the side was still a work in progress as it chased an historic breakthrough first grade crown.
"We are still a long way from playing our best. We just passed the halfway point of the season, so we aren't getting ahead of ourselves," Saddler said.
"Everyone's aware in the team is aware that we haven't put it all together yet."
The Bushrangers travel to Queanbeyan on Saturday to take on a Kangaroos that has won just twice this season.
CANBERRA RAIDERS CUP - ROUND 10
Saturday, 3pm: West Belconnen Warriors v Gungahlin Bulls, Raiders Belconnen; Queanbeyan Kangaroos v Tuggeranong Bushrangers, Seears Workwear Oval; Queanbeyan Blues v Woden Valley Rams, Seiffert Oval.
Sunday, 3pm: Goulburn City Bulldogs v Belconnen United Sharks, Workers Arena.
KATRINA FANNING SHIELD - ROUND 8
Saturday: Harden Worhawks v Yass Magpies, McLean Oval, 12.15pm; Boomanulla Raiders v Tuggeranong Bushrangers, Boomanulla Oval, 1pm.
Sunday: Goulburn City Bulldogs v South Coast United, Workers Arena, 10.40am.
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