Crossing the divide: how Red-raised Rob Simmons came to be a blue-blood

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

New Waratahs skipper Rob Simmons will end up being remembered as much a blue as he was a Red, according to long-time teammate Michael Hooper.

Given the passionate service Simmons poured into a 10-year career with the Reds prior to a far-shorter stay in NSW, that's a big call.

But it’s also one Simmons likes.

"I love that. I think that’s awesome,” Simmons said.

"Like I said, I moved my family down here and had my first son, and have another one on the way, and they’ll both be born in Sydney.

"My commitment to this group is full. It will be a pretty cool story to be able to tell my kids.”

Simmons’ path to captaining NSW is not even remotely traditional, and certainly not one the 30-year-old thought he’d ever be taking just a few short years ago.

Having grown up in the tiny town of Theodore in outback Queensland - population 500 - Simmons grew up wanting to follow in the maroon footsteps of Alfie Langer or, as the height kicked in, John Eales.

He managed to achieve the latter - mostly - after joining the Queensland Reds in 2008 as a promising lock.

Over the next decade, Simmons played 112 games for the Reds; with the 2011 Super Rugby title a highlight.

Simmons also debuted for his country as a Red, and at his third World Cup in 2019 in Japan, he joined a small group of Wallabies who have played 100 Tests.

But in 2017, Simmons was told by the Queensland Reds he would not be offered a contract for the following year.

It was an emotional blow and when he’d decided he didn’t want to go overseas just yet, the difficulty of the "what next" process ramped up a fraction more when NSW swiftly came in and offered him a new home.

In Sydney. Enemy territory.

Simmons knew he didn’t want to just move to NSW as sterile stopover in his career, marking time on the way to somewhere else.

Just as he did with Queensland, Simmons said he knew to make the move he would have to invest himself emotionally and become a whole-hearted Waratah.

"I didn’t just sign the contract and then think about it. I made sure it was what I wanted to do and then made myself okay with that,” Simmons said.

"I knew my history would have been a point that people like to talk about but I am happy with it in myself and I know my family are happy with it, and I fully committed once I signed that deal.”

Simmons arrived in Sydney at the end of 2017, and he quickly found a new home at the Waratahs.

With a little extra fire in his belly, Simmons' form for NSW and the Wallabies returned to the levels seen in the first half of the decade.

Though one of those players whose talent is rarely appreciated on social media, Simmons’ consistency, set-piece nous and unheralded defensive strength is highly valued by teammates.

He won the Waratahs’ best forward award in 2019.

For a bunch of reasons, Simmons believes the move south re-vitalised his career.

"Growing over the last couple of years in myself has allowed me to grow my performances as well,” he said.

"I had a few of my own issues going on back north, and it gave me a chance to step back and try and move forward from it. Hopefully this role is something else … to see myself grow and get better.”

Hooper is a massive fan of Simmons, who he says is highly intelligent and ultra-reliable as a club mate.

"It would be silly of me not to mention what he has done to be here,” Hooper said after it was announced Simmons would take over his captaincy role.

"He has played 100 games effectively for a rival in Queensland, and the Waratahs being a team - I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this - that he probably wouldn’t have played for at one point.

"To then move his family and come down here, and fully immerse himself in Waratahs lifestyle, Waratahs way, what we have been a part of and our history.

"Not just wanting to find another place to footy. People probably now see him as a blue as they did see him as a red, back in the day.”

Simmons said when he was approached by coach Rob Penney to take over as captain, he asked for a few days to consider the offer. It wasn’t to figure out if it was the right thing for him, Simmons explained. More if it was the correct move for the Waratahs.


"I didn’t want to jump at it for the wrong reason. I asked for some time to think about it and consult in the people I really wanted to consult with,” Simmons said.

"I am a lot more experienced now than what I was a couple of years and a few years ago I would have jumped at it, just from the honour point of view. It is a huge honour to lead such a proud club with such a huge history in Australian rugby.

"But this time around, I wanted to make sure it was the best for the group and to make sure if I take this I can enable this group to grow and be better.”

Simmons, who led the Reds as a stand-in captain in 2016, accepted the NSW captaincy and - emphasising how rare the achievement is - will on Friday night become just the fourth man to captain Queensland and NSW in the last century.

The Waratahs play Queensland at Dalby Leagues Club on Friday at 7.30 (local) and 8.30pm AEDT. Live stream on RUGBY.com.au and Reds.Rugby.