Several members of the Hull team that played under Royce Simmons in the early 1990s will ride from Hull to St Helens to help his fundraising efforts.
Simmons is undertaking a marathon fundraising effort by walking 300km Down Under in aid of dementia.
Simmons was just 32 when he took charge as coach at Hull during the 1992-93 season, months after he was part of their Premiership winning team under Noel Cleal.
Marathon effort to raise funds for player signings
During Simmons’ reign, financial trouble forced Hull to transfer list several players.
They had beaten Widnes in the 1990/91 Premiership final but slipped to 12th the following season.
Simmons had quickly gained respect after his first season as a head coach but was bemusing the financial restraints he was operating under during discussion with a sponsor one evening.
He recalled: “I was talking to a sponsor and was saying I was so wrapped up in coaching that I hadn’t been doing enough training. He agreed that it looked like I’d been eating too many pork pies and drinking too many pints.
“In the same conversation he asked how I was going to improve the side and I said it was a bit tough getting in new players of quality because we didn’t have the money.
“He then said, ‘How about you run that marathon and I’ll give you £1000 and will try to get other sponsors aboard’. I said, ‘Mate, if you want to big note yourself how about £5000 to make it worthwhile and I’ll run five of them’. Straight away he’s gone, ‘done’.”
In the summer, between seasons, Simmons ran five marathons in five days to fund player signings in a unique athletic feat.
More sponsors did get involved and the ‘punters’ of Humberside came out in their hundreds and would wave on their coach and throw coins into collection buckets along the way.
The outcome? Around £30,000 was raised and a newcomer to the black and whites’ squad in 1993-94 was none other than current Manly coach Des Hasler who played 23 games, scoring 10 tries.
He returned to the Sea Eagles after a single season in England, playing in successive Grand Finals on his return.
Departure from Hull
Unfortunately, Hull – who had Great Britain hooker Lee Jackson as their only international and a young Steve McNamara as skipper – missed the play-offs by a point.
They were keen for Simmons to sign-on for another two seasons – and he was keen to stay.
However, news came through from Penrith that his restaurant business was not performing well without his presence and he reluctantly headed home after two seasons at the helm.
Just over a year after his return, Royce was thrown into a controversial start to his Australian coaching career when Phil Gould departed Penrith five rounds before the end of the 1994 season to take up the role with Sydney Roosters and Simmons was rushed in as caretaker coach.
He did enough to secure the job full-time and stayed for the next seven seasons.
Meanwhile, Kiwi Tony Gordon replaced him at Hull but they were relegated a year later and spent three seasons out of the top flight before another Australian, Phil Sigsworth, led them into Super League in 1998.
From Hull to St Helens
After working as assistant coach to Tim Sheens at Wests Tigers, Simmons returned to England in 2011 for a season at St Helens.
The Hull FC ex-players association has arranged a cycle ride between the two stadiums to raise funds for dementia after hearing of the plight of Simmons.
News of his upcoming fund-raising campaign, and some other former Hull players with dementia, prompted them to spring into action.
They will set off on Thursday May 12 – five days before Simmons departs his hometown Gooloogong en route to Bluebet Stadium at Penrith – and ride more than 160kms along the Trans Pennine Trail to Merseyside in time to attend the Super League clash between Hull and St Helens.
The challenge will take place just a couple of days before Dementia Awareness Week gets underway on May 15 and the money raised will be shared among local charities and groups who work alongside those suffering from dementia.
Among the former Hull players taking part will be Jon Aston, Dean Busby, Matt Schultz, Richard Fletcher, Craig O’Donnell, Steve Crooks and Keith Tindall, some of whom played under Simmons during their time at The Boulevard.
The Hull old boys have released a special jersey to commemorate their bike ride, with a special No. 9 version to honour Royce Simmons. To buy, click here.
For more information about Royce’s Big Walk and how to donate to Dementia Australia, go to www.roycesbigwalk.com.au.