Simona satisfied in proving Panthers wrong
If a 16-year-old Tim Simona had his way he would've carved out an NRL career at the foot of the mountains.
Simona moved to Australia from New Zealand when he was six years old and spent a chunk of his childhood living in Penrith.
The now 24-year-old featured for the Panthers' youth development sides in the early 2000s but when it came to making the step up to the Harold Matthews, the Panthers didn't play ball.
Simona grew up with Blake Austin and was left devastated when the now-Raiders playmaker was selected, with Simon left to look on.
Simona's sadness reached a point where he contemplated never playing rugby league again.
As fate would have it Simona ended up trialling for Balmain's under-16s and this Friday night will line up for his 76th NRL game when the Wests Tigers head to Pepper Stadium to play the Panthers.
"I asked myself at the time whether I should play again or not. It saw my confidence go down but I kept trying and I made the Harold Matts side for Balmain which I was grateful for," Simona said.
"It's been 100 per cent satisfying to prove [the Panthers] wrong. Things happen for a reason and I'm blessed to be here.
"I was a kid, so I was devastated to not make the team. It was pretty full on. Hopefully this week I can get one up on them."
Simona will take added responsibility on against the Panthers with James Tedesco (jaw) out for the season and Luke Brooks making his return from a knee injury.
The Samoan international is ready to step up and has backed replacement fullback Jordan Rankin to do the same.
"'Teddy' is a big loss. He's one of our key players but in saying that Rankin's going to be at the back this week. He's looking confident, looking sharp at training so he'll fill in the spot no doubt," Simona said.
"Obviously Teddy is one of our key players. If he's not scoring tries, he's setting them up. So for us other backs, we have to help 'Brooksy' and Mitch in terms of taking the leadership burden off them."
The Tigers sit one competition point outside of the top eight currently and Simona couldn't fault the club despite them having to win every one of their remaining games to stay in the finals hunt.
"We're just loving our footy at the moment," he said. "Everyone is enjoying everyone else's company and it's a good vibe. Hopefully we can keep it up."