North Queensland's Tariq Sims is set to miss the remainder of the NRL season after it was confirmed he had broken both bones in his left leg during North Queensland's 30-28 win over Penrith.
Sims will undergo surgery in Townsville this week to repair the break, which is in a similar position to where he fractured his leg against Cronulla last August.
The side's medical staff will take a conservative approach to Sims' return.
"We expect he is going to be able to make a full recovery but when that will be will be decided at a later date," said Peter Parr, the club's general manager of football.
The 22-year-old had just been called into Ricky Stuart's NSW State of Origin squad as 18th man to provide injury cover before the freak accident.
Stand-in captain Matt Bowen, who has spent significant periods of recent seasons on the sidelines with knee injuries, said it was heartbreaking to see the boom forward go down once more.
"It's always hard when obviously you come back from a big injury like he did last year and full credit to him, he trained hard and did the rehab," Bowen said.
"(Sims) has got a big future ahead of him with Origin and whatnot, so it's always hard, but I'm sure he'll be better for it next time around."
Coach Neil Henry said Sims' absence puts more pressure on the depth of his club, particularly at Origin time when key players Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Brent Tate and James Tamou are unavailable.
"It's a fact of life, you've got to deal with injuries and Tariq will be away now by the look of it but the next man steps in - we've got depth in the club," he said.
The Cowboys have traditionally struggled without playmaker Thurston directing play, winning just 10 of their previous 30 matches without him.
Replacement Michael Morgan (five-eighth) and Ray Thompson (halfback) covered the roles while their co-captain was absent through representative duties and injuries last year.
They stepped up against the Panthers and showed more composure and control.
Henry said the pair still has some work to do, but their performance gave him confidence they will be able to step in against the Warriors in Auckland when Thurston heads to Queensland camp for Origin II.
"(Morgan) has had limited first grade this year and I thought he handled it OK, so him and Ray will form a bit of a combination and will be better the next time they get that opportunity," he said.
Bowen also took up a lot of the playmaking duties on Saturday and was involved in four of North Queensland's five tries against Penrith.