The NSWRL has thrown its support behind True Blue Royce Simmons to help raise funds for vital research into Alzheimer’s Disease, while also helping those fighting for their health.
The cause has taken on special poignancy for Simmons (photo above courtesy of Penrith Panthers) after he announced he had been diagnosed with the degenerative brain illness at 61 years of age.
Simmons told the Penrith Panthers website that some might jump to conclusions and directly link his condition with concussions he suffered during his playing career but he added medical experts have provided no evidence about the specific cause of his condition.
More important to Simmons, who captained the Panthers to the 1991 NRL premiership alongside 10 games for Australia and 10 for the NSW Blues, is to highlight the need for more research into the disease as well as ways of helping the families and friends of those diagnosed.
That’s why he and wife Leanne, with the support of Panthers, Dementia Australia, and other partners, have organised the inaugural ‘Royce's Big Walk’ over 10 days in May.
NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden said his organisation would be supporting Simmons’ efforts at each nightly fundraising event in the towns along the 300km route – from his home town of Gooloogong, near Cowra, to Panthers Stadium in western Sydney from 17-27 May.
“We’re going to support his functions and from speaking with Royce the likes of Freddy (Brad Fittler), Brandy (Greg Alexander), Paul Sironen and Kurt Fearnley will also be attending,” Trodden said.
“We’re asking Rugby League people at each town along the way to do the same by turning up at the functions.
“Apart from being such a great bloke and an important player in the history of the Penrith club and NSWRL, Royce is also the first person to put his hand up to help a former teammate, a former coach or anyone that asks him basically.
“It says a lot about him that when he receives a diagnosis about a serious condition that he now has to deal with himself, his instinct is to try to raise money that will help others.
“I think everybody in the game has an obligation to themselves to be Royce Simmons for a day or so, and by that, I mean do for Royce what Royce has done for other people.”
Alexander, who played alongside Simmons in both the 1990 and 1991 Grand Finals, said one quality has always stood out for him about his former Panthers teammate.
“I remember when he went to England to coach Hull FC (1992-94) he ran something like seven straight marathons to raise money for the club,” Alexander said.
“So, he was coaching but was also raising money. That shows what a committed and determined person he is – and that drive was the trademark of his footy career.”
Alexander hopes to walk part of the way with Simmons, who he says is in great spirits.
“I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only Penrith player or fan wanting to help out of the best people associated with our great club and game,” he said.