A possible season-ending knee injury to Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco has the sucked the life out of what was a thrilling 19-18 win over Canberra at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday evening.
Tigers coach Mick Potter would've just sat down in his box when Raiders skipper Terry Campese collected a towering Pat Richards kick-off, only to be met by a flying Tedesco.
But play was immediately halted when the back-flipping prodigy left the field writhing in agony, having clashed knees with Campese. He was eventually stretchered off and sent straight to hospital with his season all but over.
Tedesco to miss 10-12 weeks with knee injury
Ricky unloads on Raiders and refs
I haven't seen a tougher performance: Potter
WATCH: Highlights from the Tigers' win
WATCH: Braith Anasta ends the deadlock
WATCH: Mick Potter & Robbie Farah on the win
WATCH: Ricky Stuart on the Raiders' defeat
The stunning, shocking – and not to mention, ironic – opening was just a preview of what was a highly dramatic first 20 minutes to this grudge match.
Whether it was a game-ending concussion, a half dozen scuffles, a pair of tries to opposing wingers, or an accusation of an eye-gouge that was later retracted, the only thing missing from this encounter was an embarrassing winger's gaffe that led to a try.
And we almost got that.
In the end though, it was a 72nd-minute field goal from veteran Braith Anasta that was the difference in an epic contest in front of 9,243 fans.
The Tigers dominated the early proceedings despite losing Tedesco. After denying a ninth-minute try to Tigers second-rower Curtis Sironen, the video referees ruled that a Raiders player was accidentally offside in the build-up, handing the home side a fifth straight set on the opposition line. And halfback Luke Brooks took full advantage, piloting a pinpoint crossfield kick for wingman David Nofoaluma.
Soon after, Tigers skipper Robbie Farah claimed that Canberra prop David Shillington had eye-gouged him in a tackle. But after initially agreeing to lodge an official complaint with lead referee Matt Cecchin, Farah withdrew his accusation.
In the next set, Tigers centre Tim Simona's night was over after he clashed heads with Jack Wighton. And in the set after that, Maroons forward Josh Papalii stampeded Brooks to set up a first career try for Raiders rookie Brenko Lee and complete a remarkable opening period.
But it didn't take long for the home side to respond, and Nofoaluma's half-volley pick-up from a loose Bodene Thompson pass was rewarded with his second try of the night.
Not to be outdone, Lee's chip and chase over fill-in fullback Blake Austin also matched the three tackle breaks Anthony Milford put on Richards – all in the same sequence – to complete his own brace.
But the Campbelltown circus didn't end there.
Another soaring Richards kick-off ended in the kicking extraordinaire adding another two points after a Raiders player was ruled accidentally offside for picking up a Milford spill – one which included some particularly heated exchanges between Shillington and Martin Taupau – and level the game at 12-all.
But that's when Nofoaluma almost got a third. A nifty Farah chip trapped Raiders winger Matt Allwood in the in-goal, and the rookie looked to have made the ultimate rookie mistake when he allowed his opposite wing to pounce on the ball – but he grounded the ball just before Nofoaluma arrived.
The Tigers did get their third try however, entering halftime with an 18-12 lead after Anasta's blindside play on the last ended with Richards spinning out of the tackle and planting the ball in the corner.
For all the theatre and commotion of the first half, it was a far more subdued second as both sides finally entered a grinding period of football.
But the war of attrition looked to be heading the visitors' way as the Tigers appeared to have lost their third player of the night when Nofoaluma came off with a knee injury in the 44th minute.
Not long after, Jarrod Croker levelled the game at 18-all when he burnt fill-in centre Bodene Thompson for a signature 30-metre try.
The game remained on tenterhooks until the 70th minute, when Campese missed a field goal from right in front, with Suaso Sue having joined the Tigers' casualty ward with a shoulder injury. One set later, it was Anasta who stepped up for his under-manned side, coolly slotting over the game-winner from 25 metres out.
Canberra did have one final opportunity to steal the game when Adam Blair was ruled to have tackled Shaun Fensom without the ball, gifting Croker a 35-metre attempt at goal. But his shot sailed just wide.
Wests Tigers 19 (Nofoaluma 2, Richards tries; Richards 3 goals, Anasta field goal) defeated Canberra 18 (Lee 2, Croker tries; Croker 3 goals). Crowd: 9,243.