STRAIGHT after last year's NRL grand final, Gerringong’s Tariq Sims was asking around for Shaun Fensom's phone number. He saw Fensom's leg splay in all types of directions it shouldn't, on the biggest stage of the year, in the biggest game of his life. A game which was only minutes old.
"I felt terrible for him and I actually tried to get his number and it fell short," Sims said. "It's just one of those things that happens in rugby league. He's as tough as a $2 steak and the fact he could bounce back and come back and play good footy is a real credit to himself and his support network."
He could have just as easily been talking about himself.
To this day, Sims still walks around with a rod in his left leg. When he initially had screws in place after surgery to mend a second broken leg in the space of 12 months, back in 2012, he would sometimes set off metal detectors.
Sims was on the cusp of a State of Origin call-up six years ago, but only had to watch his old club the Cowboys in last year's grand final to realise how brittle rugby league can be. Fensom broke his lower leg in two places, just like he'd done wearing Cowboys colours more than five years earlier.
"His case was very similar to Shaun Fenson from the grand final and you usually only get one of those injuries every few years at a football club and I've been up here since the early 2000s," said Townsville-based Dr John Maguire, who oversaw Sims' recovery from his second leg break and that of Fensom's.
"It was the same sort of fracture of the bones. Tariq's might have seemed less dramatic and Shaun's looked terrible because you could see the legs flay apart. Shaun had an operation done and has done well to get back as soon as he has."
Dragons hardman Sims, who spent time at Newcastle before finding career-best form at St George Illawarra, walked onto Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday free of nerves. He said they would arrive before he becomes the 13th Blues player to make his Origin debut this series on Wednesday night, but he wasn't sure when.
Yet it's nothing compared to what was going through his mind after the second leg break, which stalled a career travelling at warp speed.
"The first one is obviously hard to get your head around, but mentally the second one was always going to be a challenge – especially as it happened so soon after the first one," Dr Maguire said. "When he broke it the second time the bones shifted.
"I always try to follow the career of the guys we've dealt with up here and he's been to a couple of different clubs, but it's great to see him finally rewarded with Origin selection."
Sims doesn't know when he will climb off the interchange bench and try to help NSW to their first series clean sweep since 2000, ironically the same year when their coach Brad Fittler was Blues captain.
The temptation would be to go too hard, too quickly. But when you've waited six years and waded through a painstaking rehabilitation, mastering the mind didn't seem as hard as it once was.
"I don't want to go out there and lose my head, throw silly balls or make silly reads in defence," Sims said.
"I want to make sure I go out there and do my job for the team and add to the team and not devalue the platform we've set in that time. I'm going to make sure I'm going out there and hopefully lift the boys to a different level."