With seconds left in the 2018 Central West AFL grand final, Tyson Hannus turned to Chris Rothnie and grinned.
When the siren sounded moments later, sealing the Tigers' breathtaking 27-point final-quarter turnaround over old foe the Bathurst Bushrangers, Rothnie was the first person Hannus embraced in joy.
Hannus was due to give the sport up - at least in the short term - after that grand final, with full-time work and a young family set to take priority in his life, while he also wanted to have a chance to spend more time in the gym.
When news arrived two weeks ago that Rothnie had taken his own life, Hannus was "shattered".
"I was sitting at work and seeing it on Facebook and called [Rothnie's brother,] Michael … I had to take a second to wrap my head around it," he said.
"I still can't come to terms with it," he said.
He was a good mate and it's a tragedy he's gone. It's not going to be the same on the field without him.Tyson Hannus
The Tigers faithful young and old congregated at Waratahs Sports Club on February 20, with 60 teary players, parents, friends and the Rothnie family coming together.
Hannus approached coach Dale Hunter and told him he would be at training next week, his decision to pull on the boots made "pretty well instantly" after he heard the news.
"After what happened with Chrisso I thought I better come back and have a season for him," Hannus said.
"I've known him for years, we started playing footy together as young kids when he came over the Tigers.
"We went to different schools but were pretty close at training, we were good mates on and off the field. I played a few junior grand finals with him and was lucky enough to win it with him last year."
He said one of his best memories of Rothnie, who he once lived next door to, was that grand final moment.
"We were three points up and siren went and we just grabbed each other and hugged and celebrated and had a great couple of days afterwards," he said.
"Off the field he was a great bloke, you could always have a yarn with him and he was someone you could turn to if you needed to. He was a great bloke."
Rothnie's death had been a shock to the Tigers' playing group, one which will change how the group approaches season 2019.
"He was a good mate and it's a tragedy he's gone. It's not going to be the same on the field without him," Hannus said.
"With Chris not on the field, he was a great utility player and you could sit him anywhere and he'd fill his role. With him not there I'll have to step up.
"I'm looking to have fun but I don't like losing, so I'll go out there and hopefully we can keep the cup at Tigerland this year."
The fallout from Rothnie's death been a challenge for coach Dale Hunter, not just from losing a friend and teammate of eight years, but as a coach who's been thrust into guiding a playing group going through the grieving process.
He was always the first to go over and support a teammate or his brother or anyone wearing the black and yellow.Tigers coach Dale Hunter
"It's never an easy thing to go through ... everyone's really hurting," Hunter said.
"It really puts into perspective what's important. What I've realised three years into becoming a football coach is only 20 per cent about footy and 80 per cent people management, helping a lot of young guys through what they're going through," he said.
"I've sort of had to realign my thinking going off what's happened and the morale of the boys."
The Tigers have a practice match in just two weeks, but it's hardly been discussed at training.
Hunter said Rothnie was a "true clubman" and is irreplaceable on and off the field.
"If you asked the Bushrangers or the Demons they'd say he was a better bloke off it than on, but I know our guys always walked much taller when he was out alongside you," he said.
"He was always the first to go over and support a teammate or his brother or anyone wearing the black and yellow. He'd always help out with the juniors, he was the first one to drag a young fella aside and give him some tips, he helped out with the umpiring.
"You can't really put it into words."
Hunter said Rothnie's death was "an important message" to young men to not be afraid to reach out, to talk to someone if they were struggling.
The Central West AFL has provided counselling to the club and the playing group, but the healing will take a long time - with Rothnie's funeral at Waratahs at 10.30am on Friday an important step in the process.
"Footy seems pretty insignificant in the light of what's happened," Hunter said.
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