Age just a number – that’s how Royce rolls

royce simmonds walk blog post

By Roy Masters for The Sydney Morning Herald. May 9, 2022 — 4.00pm

When Royce Simmons signed his first contract in 1980, he lied about his age, telling Penrith he was 20, rather than his correct age of 21.

“I knocked a year off when I signed,” he admitted. “I decided to do it early in my career. I’d played with front-rowers in the bush who worried when they approached 30. They’d say, ‘I’m 29. The club won’t want me next year.’ I knew it would be harder to knock a year off when I was 29, so I got in early, telling them I was 20.”

Nowadays, players pride themselves on how many years they play after 30.

Cameron Smith, rugby league’s greatest ever player, retired at age 37, after winning his final premiership.

His long-term front-row partner in Melbourne, Jesse Bromwich, is 33 and has signed a two-year contract with the Dolphins.

Daly Cherry-Evans is also 33 and will re-sign with the Sea Eagles.

Manly great, the late Bob Fulton, was one of the first to anticipate this coming longevity of NRL players. He told me he used the nearly two-decade careers of Smith and teammate Billy Slater as a pitch to sign Cherry-Evans to his 10-year deal.

As rugby league moved from part-time to full-time to the professional era, players have become more educated about diet; receive top medical attention and training loads are scientifically measured.

Basically, they don’t rise at 4am to work all day as a brickie’s labourer; then rush to training at 6pm before drinking six schooners at the pub afterwards.

Simmons retired as a player when Penrith thought he was 31.

He has early dementia but is physically sound, walking each morning in preparation for a 300-kilometre journey from his NSW central west home town of Gooloogong on May 17 to arrive at BlueBet stadium 10 days later for the Panthers match against the Cowboys.

The aim of Royce’s Big Walk, a registered charity, is to raise half-a-million dollars for dementia research and awareness.

The Penrith retirement village where he now lives with wife Liane, named The Royce, is a major sponsor, pledging $100,000.

“My Panthers teammate, Lou Zivanovic is also a gold sponsor,” he said.

“My old front-row partner from school owns a meatworks in Cowra and is a silver sponsor. Hertz, Penrith Leagues and St Mary’s club are also supporting it.

“I thought I’d be walking along the road by myself, put a bucket out for donations as I got closer to Penrith, get a few more interested and maybe raise $100,000.”

He will be walking some days on his own, while friends, sponsors and former teammates, including Kangaroos and Blues legends, will join for a day.

Royce’s route takes him through Cowra, Blayney, Bathurst, Lithgow and Katoomba, where nightly functions are planned.

“The junior leagues in those places have suffered from floods, fires and COVID, so we hope to raise a little extra to give them a kick along,” he said.

Royce’s Big Walk will be joined at Bathurst by the Great Walk Foundation, an annual trek to Blaxland attended by England’s former international and Panther, Bill Ashurst. It raises funds for local charities and will also devote the majority of their takings to the fight against dementia.

“I don’t think people realise how serious dementia is,” says Simmons. “We need to get off our arses and do something about it.

“It takes a lot to support a dementia sufferer. There are so many doctors, nurses, family members helping them. It costs so much money to maintain support for the people you love. They need some recognition.”

Recognition is something Royce has never sought personally. At a time image is everything, he’s never spent a minute embellishing his. The only time he lied about his age was to play more football.

There are no obvious signs of his dementia. His speech is slower but the language is the same. His eyes still narrow in a smile and his hair is tinged with grey and his face slightly wrinkled. It’s still the same Royce who retired on grand final day in 1991 when the Panthers won their inaugural premiership. He’s 63 now but he is so indelibly linked with our memories of that day and his two tries that he will always be 31 years of age.

Or was it 32?