NRL greats count sheep for a good cause

By Stephanie Gardiner

One lamb wore a Penrith Panthers jersey, another was marked “Bar Bar”, and the third was christened Kurt.

The lambs were auctioned off at the Carcoar saleyards in central west NSW on Wednesday morning to raise money for Panthers great Royce Simmons’ dementia fundraiser.

Simmons, who played 238 games for Penrith, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year.

He is walking 300km from his rural hometown of Gooloogong to Sydney to raise awareness of the disease, with sporting mates meeting him along the way.

Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, who grew up in the village of Carcoar, and former players Terry Lamb, Paul Langmack and Luke Goodwin joined Simmons for the auction at the chilly saleyards, where punters raised $38,000.

Perhaps born for it, Lamb chased Bar Bar around the pen and tried his hand at rapid-fire auctioneering, followed by Fearnley, who sold Kurt the lamb.

After the frivolity, Simmons was briefly overcome with emotion

“I didn’t expect this. This is unreal,” Simmons said, surrounded by seasoned livestock buyers and agents.

Simmons said he briefly felt sorry for himself after his diagnosis, but soon realised he could make a difference.

Having spent his boyhood in rural Australia, the 62-year-old hopes his message is heard by people in the bush.

“A lot of people who get dementia keep it to themselves and go a little bit quiet. I understand and support everyone who does that,” he said.

“But with a little bit of a profile, it’s important to get the message out there about how serious this disease is.”

Simmons went public with his diagnosis in February, saying he went to a neurologist after forgetting his wife had bought a bottle of wine just moments after they left a shop.

The former Penrith captain said he was unsure if the disease was linked to multiple concussions he suffered throughout his career.

Before starting on the second day of his long walk, he joked he’s in better shape than Lamb and Langmack.

“They both look like they’ve swallowed a sheep, and Terry still thinks he’s taller than me.

“Coming up that big hill, they’ll be seeing plenty of my backside, I can tell you that.”

Royce’s Big Walk hopes to raise $500,000. Fundraising and sponsorship money will go to Dementia Australia, while funding from events along the way will be donated to local clubs.

Simmons will finish his walk in Penrith, where the Panthers will play the Cowboys on May 27.

Australian Associated Press