Western div U18s

Royce Simmons will be glad to rest his weary feet and have a chat with some old footy mates when he gets to Bathurst Panthers Leagues Club on Saturday evening. But he admits he doesn’t look forward to every bit of conversation he’s resigned to cropping up.

Simmons will complete day five of the walk on Saturday, which includes a stroll down Conrad Straight at Mt Panorama, during his 300km Royce’s Big Walk trek that is raising money for Dementia Australia research and local rugby league.

The Gooloogong boy who cut his rugby league teeth in Cowra may have gone on to play 237 games for the Panthers, 10 in State of Origin for the NSW Blues and 10 Tests for Australia but he’ll never forget his first big senior games as a teenager – the Group 10 grand finals of 1977 and ’79.

And he knows what’s coming because on Saturday night at Bathurst Panthers with his visit coinciding with a Covid-delayed reunion of the Bathurst Railways premiership winning teams of 1980-81, all in their glory celebrating the feats that a young Simmons came so painfully close to achieving.

One of those Railways team members, who was also in the Charlestons side that beat Simmons’ Cowra Magpies in the 1979 decider, is Royce George. ‘Royce George reminds me every time I get within 100km of Bathurst,” Simmons quipped, “So I’ve got an idea of what’s coming.”

While the Penrith Panthers legend is proud of his time in local footy that saw him rated one of the best prospects of the area along with the likes of Melbourne Storm’s coaching champion Craig Bellamy (then at Oberon), his grand final memories are not among his fondest.

In 1977, he was the Magpies’ 17-year-old hooker who admits he was years away from learning the art of winning a fair share of scrums, back in the days when they were a legitimate contest for possession.

His side was chasing its first premiership in 23 years and led 6-5 with just over a minute to go when Simmons was penalised for feet across the scrum. In those days a shot at goal was allowed from a scrum penalty and Blayney’s goalkicker Michael Toohey stepped up to the mark 45 metres from the goalposts and coolly potted the two-pointer to give Blayney a 7-6 victory and stun the majority of the West Cowra Oval crowd as Royce looked at the ground in despair.

1979 grand final program

The next season Royce decided to have a season with Canowindra alongside mate Greg Coleman and, you wouldn’t believe it, in his absence Cowra won that elusive premiership with a 12-9 victory over Lithgow Workmen’s Club.

He headed back to Cowra Magpies in 1979 to play under captain-coach Billy Hilton and the Magpies found themselves in a third successive grand final – only to taste defeat again, 11-9 against Charlestons.

“They called me the Magpies mock,” Simmo smiled, ‘The two times I played they lost, the time I didn’t, they won.” The next season he was a Penrith Panther.

Newspaper reports of the time state that Royce lost the scrum count, to Charlestons’ Alan Latham who went on to play the next two seasons with Wests Magpies, by a ratio of three to one.

“At least,” said Simmons, “It was a while before I learned the tricks of the trade in the scrums, I was a halfback in rugby union during part of my teens then turned to hooker. I still struggled in the scrums in my first season or two in Sydney. I concentrated on a lot of other aspects of the game but I was no ball-winner back then.”

The informal evening at Bathurst Panthers will follow a junior gala day starting at 8am with the local side playing the Cowra Magpies In first grade. Around 120 ex-Railways players will be on hand with Royce guest speaker with Allan Langer, John Cartwright and Martin Lang while plenty of great memorabilia items to be auctioned. Tickets are available from the club.