Special report by Matt Cleary
We’re in a function room at CommBank Stadium on Saturday April 23 in the weeks prior to Royce Simmons’ 300 kilometre walk from Gooloogong in central NSW to Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium. The Tigers are playing Souths on the field. Some old boys are enjoying a beer. And Simmons is telling Tigers TV who he is.
“I’m Royce Michael Simmons, formerly of Main Street, Gooloogong,” Simmons says with his trademark wry smile. “And that’s where I’m walking from!”
And then he laughs, and rugby league laughs with him. For there are few more popular people in the game than Royce Michael Simmons. It’s heartening for people that he’s in good spirits. For it was a year ago that Simmons noticed that he was “having a few problems and decided to go and see a doctor”.
“We discovered I had Alzheimer’s, Dementia,” Simmons says. “Six months went past and I was sitting around, not thinking too much about it. And I thought, `well, why can’t we do something a bit positive about it’?”
Cue the idea to walk from his home town to Penrith. Cue an outpouring of love.
Simmons says he’s been “blown away by all the support”.
“I haven’t been here [at Wests Tigers] for a long, long time. For the club to get behind me . . . I get a bit emotional about it. I think it’s the Royce Simmons Cup? Is that right?” he asks, laughing at himself, at the incongruity of the idea.
Yet it was a good one. And enough people thought so that on Sunday at CommBank Stadium, at full-time in the Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers game, Royce Simmons will present the winning captain with the Royce Simmons Cup.
“Everyone just loves Royce,” former player and 2005 Premiership winner Ben Galea says. “He was a tough-as-nails footy player and for a man of his age (62) to take on 30-odd kilometres per day, it’s a massive achievement.”
At first Simmons and friends thought they’d be doing well if the Walk raised $50,000. Then it began to grow and gain momentum and expectations changed up to $500,000. And beyond. By the time Simmons walked into BlueBet Stadium he’d raised over $650,000 for important research by Dementia Australia.
“It shows you the determination he has and gives you an indication why he was such a great player,” Galea says.
“And it isn’t the first time Roycey’s put his hand up to help someone out or raise awareness for something that he really believes in.”
Saturday also marks Wests Tigers “Legends Day”, with former players clapping the first grade team onto the field after doing a lap of honour.