Rugby league great Royce “Simmo” Simmons is ditching the footy boots for hiking boots to embark on a 300-km journey that mirrors his life trajectory.
The Gooloogong-born and bred former Australian professional rugby league player has announced he will lead an 11-day trek from his Central West hometown to the home ground of his beloved Penrith Panthers to raise awareness and funds for Dementia Australia and league in the bush.
The announcement came just months after he publicly revealed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The lad who rose through the ranks from juniors to first grade with the Cowra Magpies, taking them to two grand finals, was catapulted onto the big green turf of the NSWRL with the Penrith Panthers in 1980. There he stayed until the club’s 1991 premiership-winning season.
Beyond club level, Royce represented NSW in the State of Origin on 10 occasions and made 10 appearances for Australia from 1986 to 1987.
He later coached the Panthers from 1994 to 2001 in between coaching English sides Hull FC and St Helens. He was also assistant coach of the Wests Tigers and the Australian side at various times from 2003.
Such is his legend, Royce was hooker for the Panthers’ Team of Legends and inducted into the Penrith Panthers’ Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Grahame Moran, Greg Alexander and Craig Gower.
Now 62-years-old, Royce’s walk departs Gooloogong on Tuesday 17 May arriving pre-match at Penrith’s Bluebet Stadium ahead of kick-off in the Panthers’ NRL game against the Cowboys on Friday 27 May.
The Panthers legend and several high-profile supporters who will walk with him – including former Australian captain Brad Fittler and Queensland greats Allan Langer and Gene Miles – will conduct fundraising initiatives and hold events to support junior rugby league along the route.
Included is a day with the Cowra Magpies, who are putting on a Community Carnival in his honour at Sid Kallas Oval on 17 May from 4 pm.
Amid the sausage sizzles, games and activities planned for the welcome, organisers are planning a group photo of the entire town to support Royce’s quest.
All residents are invited to attend and Cowra Magpies president Marc McLeish said the event was the least the club and the community could do to support Royce.
“Royce is one of a handful of players from Cowra who has gone onto bigger and better things, and the fact he has family and connections back in Cowra means he does come back a bit,” he said.
“For the kids to see someone whose name is up in lights still has an investment in this town is inspiring to the point where they realise what you can achieve from a small town like Cowra.”
Marc said Royce’s Big Walk – as it’s been termed – is a remarkable initiative.
“Royce’s dogged mindset on the field as a long-serving player and premiership winner is certainly showing post-career with his ‘head on’ attitude to the coming challenges being nothing short of inspirational,” he said.
“He’s doing something great and we’re on board to support him as a [Cowra Magpies] Old Boy.
“And while we consider the connection between the club and Royce to be very strong, this event isn’t confined to the club; this is something we are taking to the entire community.”
Overall, the plan is to conquer 30 km a day. Other luminaries taking to the asphalt alongside Royce include Tigers legends Paul Sironen, Steve Roach and Garry Jack plus Tim Sheens, John Cartwright, Barry Walker, Steve Carter, Joe Vitanza, Paul Smith and Paul Dunn.
A special partner on the road will be fellow local and two-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley, who grew up in Carcoar.
Also joining are Bulldogs’ greats Andrew Farrar, Chris Mortimer and Greg Brentnall and ‘top dog’ Terry Lamb, Panthers premiership-winning captain Craig Gower and his teammate Martin Lang, Wests Tigers greats Robbie Farah and Chris Lawrence, Great Britain international prop James Graham and others.
Most will take their turns as special guest speakers at a series of functions held in Canowindra, Cowra, Blayney, Bathurst, Lithgow and Katoomba during Royce’s’ 11-day walk.
The events will help raise much-needed funds for Dementia Australia and the footy clubs in the areas where Royce played junior football.
You can support one of rugby league’s toughest competitors in achieving his $500,000 fundraising goal by donating to Royce’s Big Walk.