Brisbane Broncos forward Matt Gillett is out of action for up to three months with a fractured neck in a massive blow to both his club and the Queensland Maroons.
In a stunning display of courage, Gillett has played with the injury since round one against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
He will miss at least eight rounds of the Telstra Premiership and the opening Holden State of Origin clash in Melbourne. Gillett may miss the entire Origin series.
The news got worse for the Broncos on Friday with halfback Kodi Nikorima ruled out of Saturday's clash with the Warriors due to a corked thigh. Jack Bird will move into the halves with Tom Opacic getting a start in the centres.
Broncos high performance manager Jeremy Hickmans said Gillett had just been reporting his injury as a stiff neck when he had in actual fact broken it.
"He injured himself in round one but tough bugger that he is he hasn't complained about it for the last two or three weeks so we've been treating it as a sore neck, which is how he's been reporting it," Hickmans said.
"Unfortunately after the game against Newcastle we were all thinking there is something not right and we decided to investigate further and we found a few fractures in his neck."
Hickmans said the next eight to 12 weeks would be a case of letting the fractures heal with the good news for Gillett being that he almost certainly won't need surgery.
Gillett sidelined by fractured neck
Queensland coach Kevin Walters spoke to Gillett on Thursday night and said he was in awe of his courage and just glad the injury had been diagnosed.
"I've spoken to Matt and he is devastated and also mindful that it could have been a lot worse for him," Walters told NRL.com.
"They are saying eight to 12 weeks depending on how he recovers and heals.
"The thing that struck me was that he hurt it in round one but has just battled on courageously.
"The main thing now is that Matt has got himself diagnosed correctly, because he was taking the injury into games.
"I noticed when I was at the Broncos [as assistant coach] that there was something not quite right around training so I'm just glad that they have found what is wrong with him so that he can get treatment and get himself better."
Warriors v Broncos - Round 6
Walters said Gillett would be a massive loss in his edge back-row role for Queensland while nominating possible contenders to fill the breach.
"Felise Kaufusi, Coen Hess and Ethan Lowe are three that come to mind, and Aidan Guerra who has played Origin and is going well for the Knights,” Walters said.
"They are all specialist edge players which is what we will be looking at."
If there is a silver lining to the injury, Hickmans said it would be that Gillett would get a virtual second pre-season after having limited time on the training field after the World Cup.
"According to the surgeon he can do virtually anything apart from contact so we've got to be a little bit careful but we'll use it as [another] pre-season for him and try and look at the positive side," he said.
"Obviously he came back from the World Cup late so didn't get a huge pre-season so it is a good chance for us to really work on him."
Former Maroons captain and Brisbane Broncos premiership winner Trevor Gillmeister said Gillett was "a massive loss to the Broncos and Queensland."
"I've had a lot to do with Gillo' over the years and he's a great player and for years now he has been one of the premier back-rowers in the game," Gillmeister, also Australia's assistant coach, told NRL.com.
"He's tough and courageous. He whacks blokes and he gets whacked all the time.
"It must have got worse as he played through the injury but sometimes you think you can get through things. A few doctors have said to me that if we all had X-rays on our bodies we'd be surprised what we have wrong."
Gillmeister said he was not surprised by Gillett’s courage as he pointed to how the World Cup-winning back-rower had made it in rugby league the hard way.
"Matt is a Bribie Island boy and he came through the lower grades to make it at the highest level," Gillmeister said.
"Nothing was handed to him on a platter. It is not as though he was a 17 or 18-year-old who had a rails run but he worked on his game to become one of the best back-rowers in the game.
"I just wish him a speedy recovery."