Sharks prop Andrew Fifita's six-week disciplinary hiatus from rugby league was just 90 seconds away from stretching into a seventh week due to back spasms suffered late in his side's warm up ahead of their Elimination Final win over South Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
Fifita went up the Allianz Stadium tunnel shortly before the Sharks completed their final warm up and his coach Shane Flanagan revealed after the game he had just a 90-second window to decide whether to replace Fifita with his twin David at the last instant.
But guidance from club physios – who said they felt they could get him right for the game – convinced him to leave Fifita in the 17.
Fifita emerged from the sheds 20 minutes into the first half after being frantically worked on by team medicos, jogged up and down the sideline, shared a touch of friendly banter with a nearby Rabbitohs fan then disappeared up the tunnel again.
Flanagan was nearly a very unhappy coach when he thought he was going to have to get through the game with 16 men, but Fifita finally made his way onto the field around the 30-minute mark and looked untroubled, eventually tallying 162 metres from 18 runs with three tackle breaks, three offloads and 18 takckles.
"He went to warm up and felt his back go in the warm up so had to come back in and get stretched so it was a bit of a thing," Flanagan said after the game.
"We were nearly going to can him just before kickoff – we actually went to the ground manager and were told there was a minute and a half and I needed [to give] an answer.
"His brother was going to swap for him and our physio seemed to think they could get him moving again.
"His back just locked up seized so it wasn't good and took 15 to 20 minutes into the first half and he still wasn't right, so I wasn't a happy coach in the box thinking I was going to play with 16 the whole game.
"He came good and they got him out there so a credit to that medical team. It hasn't [happened before], it's just one of those things, I don't know what really it is, if he hasn't done the work or he's done too much work but his back just went into spasms in the warm up."