Tucked down the side corridor of a much happier Queensland dressing room, Brent Tate was perched up on a bench, crutches by side and fiddling with the velcro straps on his full-length knee brace.
While the rest of the Maroons finally had reason to celebrate, Tate was just trying to make himself comfortable as he recovers from knee reconstruction number four. He's an expert by now but the experience never really improves.
In his place Will Chambers had thrived on debut, overcoming a week in which he was accused of assault to produce a quality first game in Origin football. The 'changing of the guard' moment was hard to escape, even if Tate has yet to decide if he will come back one more time.
It has been a wretched series for the Cowboys winger and Maroons veteran, whose opening two games were an emotional whirlwind in which he unwittingly found himself at the centre of a fierce game-wide debate, then on one leg.
The criticism he took in the wake of a lifting tackle by Josh Reynolds stung him badly. Tate said he had never felt more scared on the field and dared to invoke the name of Alex McKinnon, which would spark an hysterical and largely senseless debate across the NRL.
Once the dust had finally settled, Tate would hit the dirt once again, this time as his right knee gave way. He knew from the moment he fell to the turf in Sydney that another appointment with the surgeon lay ahead and his decorated career may be over.
Strangley enough, Tate said, he had an inkling this series may not serve up lashing of good fortune. Call it his Han Solo moment but the 32-year-old went into the 2014 series with a strange sense of foreboding.
"It's funny, you know. I said to my wife before the series started that I had a bit of a funny feeling, that I didn't have a good feeling about it. That's the way it goes. It has been hugely emotional, from game one to game two and to now. It's just time to take a breath," Tate said.
Queensland had a cast of thousands for game three to help celebrate the eight years of success but few meant more to the current group than Tate, an elder stateman that remains one of the most-respected players in the Maroons inner-circle.
It was a huge night for Tate as well. He knows he may well have played his final game and it almost overwhelmed him when he hobbled aboard the team bus to the game.
"It is good to be here. I thought I was ok but then I got on the bus and saw all my teammates and it hit me like a ton of bricks," Tate said, "I'm really happy. I thought, tonight, we haven't played like that all series. We finally got it right."
Chambers went off with a suspected concussion but stepped up seamlessly to fill Tate's shoes. He was peppered with high balls early but withstood the assault with relative ease. The man he replaced could scarcely have been more impressed.
"I was really happy for Will. I thought he was outstanding. He did everything and more on his debut. He handled the week really well and to come out and perform like that, it was about as good a debut as I've seen. He looked awesome," Tate said.
The next question Tate must address is that of his future in the game. A resume that reads 229 NRL games, 23 Origins and 26 Tests shows he has nothing left to prove but he said the call would be for personal reasons, not sporting.
"I had the surgery and the doctor has given me all the info. I just want to make sure I'm not basing my decision around emotion. I'm sore and I want to take my time. Whatever decision I make, it's not about me. It's about my family."
- Brisbane Times
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