St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale admits his playing career is over unless the Dragons advance deep into the NRL finals series after dislocating his left elbow in Sunday's 38-0 loss to Canterbury at Jubilee Oval.
The match was Nightingale's home farewell after announcing his retirement but he left the field in agony after team-mate Jeremy Latimore accidentally bent his arm back as the pair attempted a tackle.
With Dragons medical staff able to put his elbow in place within minutes on the sideline, the 31-year-old New Zealand international is hopeful he can play again but the initial diagnosis is a four-to-six week recovery.
"I think that might depend on how far we go and that sort of thing, and that's a shame but we will look at the prognosis tomorrow," Nightingale said. "There is a little bit of light until you get the proper bad news and they tell you how long it is going to be.
"I've seen this before with other players I have played with and I have been lucky with injury. It is a shame it has happened now but that's rugby league."
The timing of the injury was made worse by the fact his wife Bianka had given birth to their second child, Oliver, last week and he is unable to help as his arm is in a sling.
However, Nightingale was remaining positive after the humiliating defeat and while team-mates were booed and abused by their own fans after the match, many stayed around to watch an on-field presentation to the Renown United junior at fulltime.
"It's been a big week, my family is here from New Zealand so obviously, it is great to have them here and they are there to support win, lose or draw and that has helped put things into perspective when you have nights like tonight," he said.
Nightingale, who had missed the previous two matches with a neck injury, started the game at fullback after coach Paul McGregor's decision to bench regular No.1 Matt Dufty.
"He just wanted to play a bit more direction and try to generate a bit more ruck speed to create a bit more momentum, which never came about," Nightingale explained. "Unfortunately, we just made too many errors and we were on the back foot and were defending a lot.
"Teams that are playing without inhibition are very dangerous and teams that are playing with expectation ... it's scary."
However, Nightingale remains confident the Dragons can regain the form which saw them entrenched in the top four for 22 rounds once the finals series starts in two weeks.
"It's a new competition once you get to the finals but we are limping in there at the moment and it is not good enough," he said.
"We are dying to get there, we wish we were there eight weeks ago but it is a 25-week competition and you have to be a bit more resilient.
"Effort will come once we get there but you have to get yourself in the best position and create some sort of momentum. We know we are going to be there but we need to build some confidence before we get there so we can stand up to the best teams in the comp."