IT ended up being the greatest day of his 13-year career in the National Rugby League.
But when Todd Lowrie woke up on the morning of the 2012 grand final, it felt like one of the worst.
Instead of a problem-free preparation for his last game for Melbourne – the title decider against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium later that night – the blue-collar back-rower was in a world of hurt.
As some of his former Storm teammates count down the hours to the last game of the season against underdogs North Queensland at Homebush on Sunday, Lowrie has relived the emotional ebbs and flows he endured five years ago.
“I tore my calf muscle with about two sets to go in the captain’s run the day before, so it was a pretty horrible 24 hours before the grand final,” the well-travelled Scone junior recalled.
“I got snipered from the stand, blew my calf and couldn’t finish the session.
“I tried to run it out but I couldn’t run, so I went straight to the sheds, missed the after-session talk, and ended up with our physio somewhere out Parramatta way getting scans on my calf.”
Lowrie said the results provided a glimmer of hope but he was in for a stressful, sleepless night.
“It wasn’t bad enough to definitely rule me out, so I basically stayed up all night with the physio getting treated every hour,” he said.
“I remember calling my wife, Sally, either that night or the next morning, and telling her I didn’t think I was going to play. I thought I was out and my dream had been shattered.
“All my family were coming down to watch but I couldn’t ring them to tell them.
“But when the boys went to play cricket on the morning of the game, I went for a fitness test on my calf and a bit of a run around and it felt a bit better than I thought it was going to be.
“Once I got through that, I took it pretty easy for the rest of the day and I reckoned I was going to be right. I got through the warm-up OK, then the game, so it’s definitely a special time I’ll always remember.”
Despite his tumultuous build-up, Lowrie started at lock in the Storm’s 14-4 victory over the Bulldogs, helping secure their second legitimate premiership after they were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 titles for systematic rorting of the NRL salary cap.
There was extra cause for celebration in the Lowrie household two days after the grand final when Sally gave birth to their daughter, Lani – a sister to their son, Sonny.
Melbourne are chasing their first premiership since 2012 but Lowrie, now 34 and coach of Newcastle’s National Youth Cup team since retiring at the end of 2015, is confident they will if they reproduce the form they have consistently displayed all season.
“They’re so hard to win. It took me nine years in the NRL and three clubs to win one,” he said.
“I was 29 so as a more experienced guy that took so long to win one, you appreciate how hard they are to win. When you look at the Storm side at the moment, some of those guys are playing in their seventh grand final, but I’ve also played with a hell of a lot of guys who never got to experience even playing in a grand final, let alone winning one.
“Winning a premiership in 2012, I really appreciated how hard they are to win, because we won the minor premiership the year before and got bundled out, and I lost one with Parramatta in 2009.
“Ask anyone in the NRL who’s won a comp, a lot of stars have to align for that to happen. Everyone works hard, but a lot of things have to go right to win one, so you want to enjoy it when you do and they’re certainly a special time in your life and in your career.”
Lowrie experienced life at the other end of the emotional spectrum in the grand final three years earlier when, in his final game for Parramatta before joining Melbourne, he was on the wrong end of a 23-16 loss to the Storm.
“I remember thinking after that game how as a kid you always dream and you picture yourself winning a grand final, but it never ever crosses your mind that you’re going to lose one,” he said.
“The only time that really ever enters your thought-space is when it happens, because you never prepare for it. It’s quite an emotional time when you lose one, too, so that definitely gave me that extra drive for the next few years.”
After starting his career at the Knights (2003-06), Lowrie represented the Eels (2007-09), Storm (2010-12), Warriors (2013) and Broncos (2014-15). He returned to Newcastle at the end of 2015, intent on playing a 14th season and adding to his tally of 202 NRL games.
After a chat with Nathan Brown, who had been appointed as Knights coach for 2016, Lowrie instead retired and took on the job of coaching the club’s under-20s. He steered the Knights into the finals this year.
“Browny offered me an opportunity to coach, and I thought that was a way to help out without actually playing, and it’s probably ended up that I’ve been able to help the future of the club more by coaching than by playing that one year,’’ he said.
Like most boys who play rugby league growing up in Newcastle or the Hunter Valley, Lowrie would have loved to have spent his career at the Knights and won a premiership with them, but he harbours no grudges about the twists and turns his career path has taken.
“Everyone has their own journey, and my journey was what it was, and I’m extremely grateful for what I got to experience – just as I am grateful to be back involved with the Knights now,” he said.
Todd Lowrie on Craig Bellamy
“I know a lot gets said about him and he gets a lot of praise but I really do still think he’s under-rated as far as his coaching ability goes. Craig definitely sets the standards and the tone and the culture in that club, and the players are the ones that drive it.
“He definitely sets the bar for everything that goes on with that club. Luckily they’ve got some excellent cattle there that can really drive that but without him, it wouldn’t be as strong as what it is.
“He gets the best out of individuals, which is probably his greatest strength as a coach. I know that gets spoken about a lot but his greatest strength is getting you to be the best that you can be.”
Todd Lowrie on Cameron Smith
“He’s definitely the most influential player that I’ve ever had anything to do with, and he’s the best player that I’ve been involved with. On and off the field, the way he carries himself, and the influence that he has over a group, I’ve never seen that before and I don’t think I’ll see it again.
“He’s the rock that holds that club together but he’s a lot more of a larrikin than people give him credit for. Craig’s the serious one who sets all the standards and drives everything, and Cameron provides that bit of a contrast between being serious and being a larrikin.
“He’s one of those guys that when he talks, everyone listens. For a guy who’s the same age as him, I learnt a hell of a lot from him, both on and off the field. Just the way he carries himself, he’s a credit to himself and his family, so he’s a champion in every sense of the word.
“I believe he’ll end up going down as the greatest player that’s played the game, and it’s fully deserved. What he’s achieved already, and what he will continue to achieve over the next few years, I believe he’ll go down as the most influential player of all time.
“For what he’s going to achieve over the course of his career, it’s going to be hard to say that anyone has had a better career than Cameron Smith.”