Legends get behind huge fundraising effort by former Saints coach diagnosed with dementia

James Gordon
Royce Simmons

A who’s who of rugby league legends in Australia is getting behind a campaign by former St Helens coach and Penrith Panthers legend Royce Simmons.

Simmons, 61, revealed earlier this year that he was suffering from dementia and has set about raising funds and awareness of the disease.

Royce’s Big Walk is a 300km trek that will start on May 17 and take in a number of fundraising events.

Big names join Royce Simmons

Joining him on the walk are some huge names, including former Australia captain Brad Fittler and four-time premiership winning coach Tim Sheens.

Plus Queensland greats Allan Langer and Gene Miles, who played in the UK for Warrington and Wigan respectively.

Allan Langer

Photo: SWpix.com

Recently retired former Great Britain, St Helens, Canterbury and St George forward James Graham is also part of the trek.

Other familiar names include Wests Tigers’ great Robbie Farah and Penrith Panthers NRL-winning captain Craig Gower, who had a stint with London Broncos.

Paul Sironen, Steve Roach and Garry Jack – who played alongside Simmons with Australia in 1986 – plus John Cartwright, Barry Walker, Steve Carter, Joe Vitanza, Paul Smith and Paul Dunn are also involved.

Raising awareness of dementia

Royce Simmons said: “The support has been unbelievable. From people in the street to former teammates and friends from within the game … all over the place.

“When I’m just walking around the place (from Penrith to the foot of the Blue Mountains during daily training walks) people yell out encouragement, which is appreciated.

“At the Panthers’ game at Bathurst (the round 3 clash with Newcastle at Carrington Park), I had to walk around the ground to do an interview and it took me forever because people wanted to chat and ask how they could help and give their support.

“I hope plenty come along to the events we have planned along the route because those funds will go to junior rugby league. A lot of clubs have been doing it tough since COVID hit and, other than the functions being great nights, every dollar raised will go to a good cause.

“Other than it being more personal because of my situation with dementia, it’s the most important because of the impact the disease is having on society, and it’s only going to get worse.

“Only those who are impacted, or people close to those impacted, really understand the effect dementia has on families. It’s the second biggest killer in Australia and the largest for women.”

No stranger to superhuman efforts

Royce Simmons is in the Penrith hall of fame, having played 238 games for them as a one-club man.

The hooker helped them to their first premiership in 1991 and was also part of the 1988 Australia World Cup winning team.

He had a brief spell with Hull FC early in his coaching career, before spending seven years in charge at Penrith.

While at Hull, Simmons ran five marathons in five days in 1992 to raise money for the club.

His final head coaching role came at St Helens in 2011 and 2012.

Either side of his stint with Saints, Simmons worked closely with Tim Sheens and others as assistant coach at Wests Tigers.

Most will take their turns as special guests speakers at a series of functions being held in Canowindra, Cowra, Blayney, Bathurst, Lithgow and Katoomba during Simmons’ 11-day walk.

These and other events were the idea of Royce so he could help raised much-needed funds for footy clubs in the area where he played his junior football.

Five major event events, a junior coaching clinic, barefoot bowls and a meet the people event in Gooloogong are included in the itinerary.

The walk will finish at Bluebet Stadium just before kick-off of the Panthers-Cowboys clash on Friday, May 27 when Royce and his family will do a lap of the playing field, to a predicted emotional standing ovation.

Funds will go to support dementia research and rugby league in the bush.

For more information and background, how to donate and to keep up with event details, go to roycesbigwalk.com.au