One of Group 4's most respected players, Lachie Cameron, has retired after suffering a serious eye injury during a match.
The Narrabri Blues veteran, 33, had a titanium plate inserted in the fractured socket of his left eye after getting injured in a round four loss to North Tamworth at Jack Woolaston Oval.
Unlike Norths back-rower Josh Schmiedel, who also suffered a bad eye injury this year but is playing on, Cameron followed medical advice and retired. Keeping the sight in the eye "softened the blow" of retirement "a bit". He was operated on in Newcastle.
"I guess it was sort of a decision that was almost taken out of my hands, really," he said of his retirement. "Obviously it's not ideal, and there's no way I really wanted to stop now.
"But I saw five specialists during the process, and four of them pretty much said, 'No, that's it'. And the other was like, 'Oh, well, maybe [you can play again] but I'd strongly advise that you stopped."
Cameron, married with three children, suffered the injury when he took a hit-up from a tap - the Blues' first hit-up of the match. He "basically lost the whole flooring underneath my eyeball".
"Basically, [I] had a piece of my eye socket blow out and fracture and drop and left really only fluid holding my eyeball up.
"So I had to get a titanium plate inserted under my eyeball to hold it in place so that I could basically see straight ... Yeah, my eye had slightly dropped back into my skull."
Cameron said the plate "levelled my eye back out" but the surgeon "strongly advised that that was the last bit of contact sport I ever play" to guard against the plate being dislodged and cutting the eyeball. "That was a risk I wasn't willing to take."
When he received the injury he thought he may have been concussed. "I couldn't see a foot in front of myself." But because it was a big game, he decided to "tough it out a bit". He was playing halfback and was captain.
He took Narrabri's third hit-up too. "I remember sort of grabbing at my face and hearing someone say, 'Take one back to the left' ... I could sort of see a little bit if I closed up one of my eyes, [closed] my bad eye up. Anyway, I managed to catch the ball but I couldn't really see where I was running.
"So I just saw the first red jersey that I could find and took the tackle. And it turned out to be Josh Schmiedel ... and probably not the most ideal one to run at when you've got a facial injury."
He said Blues player-coach Brenton Cochrane, now the side's captain, and a Blues trainer did not like the look of him. "I sort of said, 'I'll hang out on the wing a little bit and see if I can sort of regain my sight'. And that wasn't really what Brenton or the trainer really wanted to hear and they pretty much collared me straight away and told me to get off the field."
Before the injury, Cameron had hoped to play "three or four more seasons" so his youngest child, Nate, 2, would have memories of him playing. "Yeah, not how it panned out. So, yeah, I just learn to live with it now."
Cameron is one of Group 4's most decorated players. He captained the group and played for the Greater Northern Tigers. However, he never won a first-grade premiership, including in rugby union (he played for the Blue Boars before joining the Blues in 2014).
The personal trainer left Narrabri straight after high school to play for the Manly Rugby Union Football Club. He spent three seasons playing Colts and a season playing third grade at Manly. Prior to that, he had a season of first grade at Pirates when in year 12.
He returned to Narrabri in 2009. In 2018, he told the Leader that his late grandmother Jean Cameron, who had been a Blues life member, regarded his decision to play for the Blue Boars with outward contempt.
Prior to getting injured this year he said he had not "missed a season since I was five". "I'd like to think I've always tried hard, tried my best ... So, yeah, no real complaints; had a pretty good run.
'[I] wish I had probably a bit more luck with injury over the time ... But none of my injuries are anything that are gonna affect me in my life after footy ... [I'm] thankful that my kids got to see me play a bit of footy before it all ended."
Inconsistent Narrabri have missed Cameron's presence on the field this season. "We've sort of played some really good footy at times. We've got that bit of spark there that we can really challenge some sides.
"But then we sort of dropped our intensity a few times during the year and it's cost us ... I guess that's probably been our issue this year."
Cameron, one of the region's best batsman, will continue playing cricket.