RACHAEL Purcell always knew playing rugby league with an enlarged heart was a risk for her husband Zane.
But she never expected to get the awful phone call on Sunday, her first Mother's Day since the birth of the couple's first child, saying her husband had collapsed and died in a game at Ballina.
"It was hard," Mrs Purcell told Seven News while still struggling to come to terms with her loss.
"He lived and breathed (footy).
"You go into the sport knowing that there might be something that's going to happen. Could be anything," his wife said.
The popular Lower Clarence Magpies forward collapsed following a head clash during a reserve grade game against the Ballina Seagulls.
It is not known whether the head clash contributed to his injury.
A man-mountain, Mr Purcell lived and breathed rugby league and even set up a try in his last match.
The Kingsford Smith Park scoreboard still remains frozen at the moment when Mr Purcell collapsed.
Despite his passion for rugby league, the loves of Mr Purcell's life were his wife and seven-month-old daughter Bonnie.
But now he will never see his daughter grow up.
The Purcell family said they expect an autopsy to confirm Zane died as a result of his enlarged heart and irregular heartbeat.
The family were told by doctors his injury was so catastrophic, even if he was in an emergency department surrounded by doctors he wouldn't have been saved.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.