Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Panthers flyer David Simmons – the NRL’s leading tryscorer this season – never expected his career would pan out the way it has. The athletic winger never imagined leaving the Cronulla Sharks; couldn’t envisage playing for Penrith; wouldn’t even dream of being considered a bolter for NSW State of Origin selection.
But that is exactly the way the dice has fallen for Simmons, who leads the league for the most number of four-pointers with 19 in the midst of his career renaissance at the foot of the Blue Mountains.
“I can’t believe it, just picking up tries every now and then since Round 1,” Simmons tells NRL.com ahead of his team’s vital clash with the Broncos at Centrebet Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s cool to be at the top and I never thought I’d be there, that’s for sure.”
The 28-year-old spent seven years at the Sharks – his local club – and wanted to see out his career in the black, white and blue. But, as things turned out, by 2010 the De La Salle junior was playing at the base of the mountains.
“I was a (Cronulla) local and I love it there and still want to move back there when I finish footy – I’ve got a lot of family there,” Simmons says.
“It was definitely my childhood club. It was tough to leave, I really enjoyed playing at Shark Park for the Sharkies and my last game there was sad to leave, but it’s business at the end of the day. They made the call about moving forward, and in the end it turned out to be good for me as well.
“We had a tough year (at Cronulla) in 2009, losing a lot of games and we weren’t scoring many points so they wanted to make a few changes. I think it was when Blake Ferguson was starting, so they wanted to make a few changes through the backs and I started playing a bit of second grade. I got a few injuries that year as well and couldn’t make it back in to first grade… then the Sharks said if I wanted to play elsewhere I could, and Matty Elliott gave me a shot at the Panthers in 2010.”
Since arriving in Penrith, Simmons has become a mainstay of the Panthers’ line-up, even through the coaching shuffle that has seen Elliott replaced, Steve Georgallis temporarily take the reins and Ivan Cleary eventually taking over from 2012.
Now a 173-game and an 88-try veteran, Simmons credits his teammates with his fine form this season that has seen him cross the chalk a career-best 19 times in just 21 matches.
“I just put it down to how the boys have been playing inside me, particularly Dean Whare and Matty Moylan for a lot of the season,” Simmons, a 2006 City Origin representative, says.
“Those guys have been playing outstanding football and they’re helping me get some tries.
“That’s confidence in my centre Deano, Dean Whare. I’ve been playing with him for 15 games now and kind of developed a bit of a combination where he puts me in a good position to score and I just trust he’s going to give me the ball when I need it and all I’m thinking about is trying to finish them off.”
As a Panther, Simmons is carrying the ball with increased aggression and improved confidence – a product the dedicated Christian credits as a result of the influence of head coach Cleary.
“Ivan’s just taught me how to trust your ability and to read the game. He’s very practical and he’s a very good coach,” Simmons says.
“He’s very level and he’s taught me how to handle the pressure and be able to back yourself when you need to.
“I’m always trying to improve – every year and every game I’m trying to play better. I’ve never thought I’ve reached my full potential and I guess you’re always trying to add things to your game as you go along and that was something I needed to do to be a helpful member of the team – carrying the ball strong – and it’s been something I’ve been working on too.
“I definitely think I’ve improved since [at Cronulla]. Every player is improving throughout their careers and for me I’ve definitely improved since then. I had a few sort of low years after that with injuries and lacking form but I definitely feel I’m playing better now.”
Simmons, though, is determined to look forward more than simply reflect on the past. He and his teammates, currently perched 12th on the ladder, are still in the hunt for a finals position, though with the Broncos, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles their opponents in the next three weeks it’s not going to be easy.
“No games are easy – even Parramatta at Parramatta Stadium was one of the toughest games we’ve played. Every game is tough,” Simmons says.
“We always think we can beat any team we come up against. It’s something we’ve been working on since pre-season… working together as a team, and doing your role to get us a win. We believe in it and we believe if we execute our game plan and everyone plays to their ability, we can beat anybody. That’s the belief we go into the games with.
“Everyone who plays footy wants to play at the highest level and I’m no different, but it’s not something I focus on. If that comes it comes, but there are lots of other players out there who deserve those spots as well so it’s not something I focus on… My main focus is always just to help the team, do my job and see where it takes me the next week.”