LYING in the back of an ambulance, NSW Origin stand-by Tariq Sims apologised for letting down his teammates after breaking a leg during a Cowboys victory secured by the heroics of brother Ashton.
The 22-year-old was due to fly to Melbourne at 9.25am today as a possible replacement for Blues skipper Paul Gallen in Origin I but will instead wake up in Townsville Hospital after snapping his left leg in the same place it broke last season.
As he was loaded into an ambulance following the 53rd-minute incident, the Country Origin forward told Cowboys official Paul Munnings: ''Make sure everyone knows I'm sorry I let them down.''
Earlier, his cries of ''f---, I've broken it again'' were heard around the country on live television.
Penrith hit the lead not long after Sims's departure but brother Ashton - who rose from the reserves' bench to comfort Tariq as his medicab crossed the sideline - waged a one-man war on the Panthers when sent back into the contest. He scored the match-winning try with six minutes left and - poetically - had the ball as the full-time siren sounded.
''It's never good when you see the medicab come on to the field,'' Ashton said last night. ''I don't know the extent of his injuries so I'll head up there [to hospital] now.
''It's heartbreaking. He got called up to the Origin as 18th man, too, so that sort of sucks. I know it's easy for me to say but he's one of the most stand-up blokes I've ever known.
''He's only 22. He was playing some really good footy before he hurt himself tonight. I just feel really bad for him. He's got such a bright future and he'll bounce back from this.''
The injury, which is likely to sideline Sims for three months, gives Wests Tigers' Aaron Woods an elevated chance of getting a run for NSW if there is a late withdrawal. NSW could, however, opt to call up someone else with back-row experience as Gallen battles a knee injury.
Tariq Sims's NSW camp involvement was already in doubt by the time he was injured. Two minutes beforehand, he had been placed on report for using a forearm to the head of Penrith's Blake Austin. ''You had two goes,'' referee Steve Lyons told Sims. ''You could be lucky to be staying here. Clean up your game.''
Coach Neil Henry described the Sims injury as ''a freak accident''. ''He was on the ground and a support runner's come through and just happened to collect him on that spot,'' Henry said.
With halfback Luke Walsh a late inclusion, the Panthers scored first through Clint Newton and never let the Cowboys out of their sights.
Penrith led 12-10 at half-time, before tries to Antonio Winterstein and Gavin Cooper seemed to give the Cowboys a strong advantage. Tries to Brad Tighe and Josh Mansour left Ivan Cleary's side in contention for an upset.
Ashton Sims, however, wasn't going to let that happen. He came up with the ball after a bomb for the video referee-approved clincher.
Cleary was none too pleased with proceedings. ''We just beat ourselves,'' he said. ''Penalties … I think four times after we scored, we gave away a penalty. We only needed a fair share of possession in that second half and we would have been OK.''
NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (M Bowen G Cooper A Graham A Sims A Winterstein tries M Bowen 5 goals) bt PENRITH 28 (T Burns L Coote J Mansour C Newton B Tighe tries B Austin 3 L Walsh goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: Steve Lyons, Chris James. Crowd: 7,648.