There are fears for Ethan Lowe's immediate playing career with the North Queensland back-rower being ruled out for the rest of the NRL finals series with a spinal cord injury.
It had emerged before the Cowboys' home sudden-death semi-final against Brisbane on Friday night that Lowe had been struggling with a neck complaint from last week's qualifying final loss to Melbourne.
But Cowboys coach Paul Green still surprised a big media contingent in Townsville on Thursday when he revealed the full extent of Lowe's injury.
"Ethan Lowe's season is finished," he said.
"Unfortunately, he has injured his spinal cord. As you can imagine, it is pretty serious and pretty sensitive.
"Outside of that, I can't comment too much. It's really devastating."
Green was saying little when pressed further on Lowe's injury or even how it had occurred during the Storm defeat.
"As a I said, due to the nature of the injury and the sensitivity surrounding it, I am not going to comment any further," Green said.
The 25-year-old Lowe had enjoyed a breakout year in 2016, at one stage earning a Queensland State of Origin 18th man call-up.
He had played every game - all 25 - this season, averaging 14 hit-ups, 33 tackles and more than 120m per match.
The Cowboys will be hoping Lowe can follow in the footsteps of fellow North Queensland forward James Tamou who made a successful recovery last year from a serious neck injury.
Coen Hess, just 20, will start in the back row for Lowe with 2015 premiership interchange player John Asiata added to the bench.
Queensland under-20 and Junior Kangaroo rep Hess has played just six games this season but that has included the past four for the Cowboys.
"His development pathway has been good," Green said of Hess.
"He has handled every step up he has been given. It's a great opportunity for him on a big occasion.
"But he has done a good job for us at the back end of the season."
Green was just as comfortable adding Asiata to his squad.
"John has played in some big games," he said.
"He was a part of our grand final team. We've got full confidence in those boys (Asiata, Hess)."
Green is sweating on winger Antonio Winterstein (ribs) but had earlier officially ruled out centre Kane Linnett (hamstring).
He confirmed eight-game player Javid Bowen would run out in the grand final re-match for Linnett.