By Martin Gabor - NRL.com National Correspondent
It was the moment that robbed her of an All Stars appearance and a spot in the Jillaroos side to take on the Kiwi Ferns for the Anzac Test, and star back-rower Kezie Apps has opened up about the tough times she endured as she recovered from a broken leg suffered in this year's Auckland Nines.
The 3-0 series sweep over the old enemy should have been a joyous occasion for Apps and her teammates, but a serious injury in the second game saw the 2016 Dally M Female Player of the Year crack her left fibula and tear the ligaments in her ankle, forcing her to have surgery.
Now fully recovered and preparing for Sunday's Women's Interstate Challenge, Apps sat down with NRL.com at WIN Stadium to chat about what she's gone through since that fateful day in Auckland.
"It's been tough," Apps said of her recovery. "I was pretty gutted when it happened, knowing that I couldn't play the last game of the Nines series but also All Stars, Anzac Test and maybe even Origin and the World Cup at the end of the year.
"A lot of the goals that I'd set at the start of the year were crushed in that very moment and I had to re-evaluate all of them.
"Knowing that I couldn't play in the Anzac game, I was pretty shattered at that point, but I knew I was no hope given it was 10 weeks away and I wasn't allowed to start running until 12 weeks after surgery. As soon as I got to that mark, I actually waited an extra week because I didn't want to rush it and take any chances."
The injury itself spoke volumes of Apps's approach to rugby league.
The barnstorming back-rower had only just returned to the field after being split open with a nasty head cut but only lasted a few minutes before she had her left leg trapped awkwardly in a tackle while the Jillaroos were on the attack.
Despite the brave face she put on, she knew she'd done some serious damage to her body.
"The pain was insane and I heard a pop. I didn't know that I'd done ligaments at the time; I just thought the pop was my break and I knew not to put any pressure on it," she said.
"A lot of friends and family were messaging me that they didn't know how bad it was because when I was getting carried off the field, all I was doing laughing. At that stage, I'm pretty sure I was just in shock and my body's natural pain relief had kicked in. I was too busy worrying about them picking me up and saying 'don't I'm too heavy!' so I started laughing.
"My friends and family all thought I'd sprained my ankle, but if that was the case then I would have stayed out there."
Shod in a moon boot, Apps was able to celebrate with her teammates in the sheds after the series win, but as the adrenalin wore off, the next few weeks weren't so easy.
The harsh reality of her position had sunk in leaving Apps to ponder what was left for her in 2017.
She could have felt sorry for herself and kicked stones for the next three months, but instead turned to something equally powerful and heartbreaking to put things in perspective.
"My cousin doesn't actually know this, but he was my biggest inspiration through it all," she revealed.
"He suffered a really bad accident and became a quadriplegic after a snowboarding accident in Canada. He went over there for a six-month holiday and wanted to work over there and do snowboarding but he had an accident and was quadriplegic but he's trying to walk again so he's a big inspiration for me because my injury was only temporary whereas he might never walk again.
"Just knowing what he's going through helped me through my recovery. I had to suck it up and it turned my thought pattern around into something much more positive. "There are a lot of people out there who are in worse positions than what I was going through so I had to suck it up and stop being such a sook.
"He's trying to get movement back in his arms now so he was my biggest inspiration as well as my mum and my family.
"I also have to thank my boss at the gym I work at back home. He was fantastic in getting me back to work even though I couldn't do anything. Being around people at the gym and everyone being so positive in that environment instead of in my own bubble at home was a huge thing for me."
Apps is itching to get back for the Blues on Sunday, and if her current form is anything to go by, Queenslanders best be scared after she scored four tries in a 58-0 win over Windang in her first game back for the Helensburgh Tigers.
"Every time I was running or doing a gym session, I was trying not to focus on my leg. I was trying to get my symmetry right and not favour one leg or limp around," she said.
"Even though it might have hurt a little bit more, I was trying to push off both legs because the more I do it in training, the better it will be for me on the field."