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The Sydney Morning Herald

ROYCIE, THE GOOD GUY WHO FINISHED FIRST

Author: By TONY STEPHENS
Date: 22/09/1991
Words: 918
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 1
Yesterday's Rugby League grand final showed, through an ordinary looking bloke called Royce Simmons, how there is nothing quite as cut and dried as sport.

At the Penrith Leagues Club last night, Simmons was buying drinks for the people of Sydney's west. He was the happiest hooker.

Tim Webster, ground announcer at the Football Stadium, had said: "Ladies and gentlemen, you wouldn't be any other human being in our State today than Roycie Simmons."

And Roycie - all football fans and Penrith people call him Roycie - said he didn't know what to say but added: "I hope to have a schooner with everyone of youse tonight sometime."

Exactly one year ago, after Canberra had beaten Penrith in the 1990 grand final, Simmons's wife had to take him away from the club at 4am. He had been sitting outside, staring into space, speechless with the void of defeat.

Yesterday, however, Penrith beat Canberra 19-12. Simmons, who rarely scores tries, scored the first and last of the match. His beloved Panthers used to be disparaged as "the chocolate soldiers". Now they had won their first competition, after 25 years of trying. What's more, they had won in his very last match, after 12 seasons in this toughest of sports.

Roycie thus became part of sporting history. He also demonstrated the cut-and-dried nature of sport: players take from it either tremendous fulfilment or tremendous disappointment.

It was disappointment time yesterday for Tim Sheens, the Canberra coach. He had played 258 games for Penrith, some alongside Simmons in the front row. He had then coached Penrith, and Simmons.

Late yesterday he went to shake Roycie's hand. "He's in very good spirits,"said the losing coach.

So the game had something wonderfully democratic about it, a conflict between good and bad, between winning and losing, in which a good guy like Simmons could finish first.

Sheens said his team did not have the petrol to get where it wanted in the second half, yet had played, through the season, some of the best football this competition had seen. So it had.

Mr Ken Arthurson, chairman of the Australian Rugby League, said it was good for Penrith to win because the win made history.

Most league officials would also be grateful to Penrith because a Canberra victory would have been a tarnished triumph. Having broken the salary cap rules, it would have been said that 1991 marked the first time a club had officially bought a premiership.

Yet the season will be remembered for the courage and flair of the Raiders in winning seven consecutive sudden-death games to reach yesterday's decider.

Simmons began his assault on the Raiders in the seventh minute. An unfashionable man in these days of big, fast, athletic players, he shuffled and squirmed past tacklers for the first try.

Canberra hit back through two tries to winger Matthew Wood. The first came from a kick by Ricky Stuart, who has Australia's most famous groin, the second a class act by Stuart, Laurie Daley, Mal Meninga and Bradley Clyde.

Canberra led 12-6 at half-time. Only twice in the last 15 years had teams come from behind at half-time to win a grand final.

Penrith's coach, Phil "Gus" Gould, told his charges at half-time that they deserved to win. "Gus lifted our heads," captain Greg Alexander said later. "He's a genius."

Alexander, Greg Barwick, Mark Geyer, Brad Fittler and Brad Izzard combined to even things up with only 11 minutes left.

Then, with seven minutes to go, Alexander thought creatively. In sport, this can simply mean there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done. He booted a field goal from 38 metres out.

Geyer, villain and hero, sealed it with four minutes left. A villain when sent off for an illegal tackle, he became a hero by plucking Gary Belcher's clearing kick from the air and passing to Simmons for the final try.

* Herald readers in the Penrith area can pick up a souvenir Panther Power poster free from their newsagent today. One poster per paper, while stocks last.

 
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