TAKE ME BACK

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JAMES PHELP S

ON most af­ter­noons you can find Tim Si­mona at Mil­ton Park in Mac­quarie Fields, foot­ball in hand, catch­ing, kick­ing and scor­ing tries that no one will ever see.

A world away from ANZ Sta­dium, the ground he once lit up with the Wests Tigers, Si­mona will also be dream­ing of re­turn­ing to the NRL.

Two years af­ter be­ing dereg­is­tered “in­def­i­nitely” over league’s big­gest-ever bet­ting scan­dal, Si­mona will this week meet the Rugby League Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion to ask for help over­turn­ing his ban.

“I just have to have a foot­ball in my hands,’’ Si­mona, 27, said. “I have to have rugby league in my life. I go to the park with a foot­ball nearly ev­ery day and I dream of once again play­ing in the NRL. I want it more than any­thing.’’

The Sun­day Tele­graph has ob­tained a let­ter Si­mona will present the RLPA as well as a dossier out­lin­ing his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and com­mu­nity work.

“The past two years have been the hard­est of my life,’’ Si­mona wrote. “I ap­pre­ci­ate the in­valu­able les­sons I have learnt, which have been many.

“I have es­tab­lished that my true friends have gone from in the hun­dreds to a hand­ful. I have been cut off, laughed at, made fun of, ac­cused of things

I didn’t dd ’ d do. “My fam­ily had re­lied on me and my in­come to pay for food, rent, bills and hol­i­days.

“In my cul­ture the chil­dren sup­port the par­ents and rel­a­tives over­seas and I have not been able to do that, I have let them down. They are ev­ery­thing, they’ve kept me pos­i­tive, made me re­alise that I’m not a bad per­son.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate life more, I take noth­ing for granted.’’

Si­mona was dereg­is­tered in March 2017 af­ter be­ing found guilty of bet­ting on NRL matches. At the time NRL boss Todd Green­berg said “it is very hard to imag­ine’’ Si­mona would ever be reg­is­tered to play again.

The Kiwi cen­tre was also given an 18-month good be

haviour bond for de­fraud­ing

char­i­ties by sell­ing signed jer­seys and keep­ing the cash.

“My in­tent at no stage was/ has been to em­bar­rass the game,’’ Si­mona says in his let­ter. “I would never choose to do this jour­ney and I hope no one I love or cared for would go on one re­motely sim­i­lar — it has been the most gutwrench­ing, dif­fi­cult, em­bar­rass­ing, shitty, sham­ing, dis­ap­point­ing, emo­tional, iso- lat­ing, sur­real, re­gret­table, anx­ious, all to the point I didn’t wish to live.

“Thank­fully, I have got­ten this far with sup­port and love of oth­ers who have be­lieved in me — I seek the sup­port and un­der­stand­ing of the NRL and wish to be given the op­por­tu­nity to show I am a changed man and not the per­son they have seen and believe me to be.’’

Si­mona has spent the past two years putting his life back to­gether, com­plet­ing eight ses­sions with a gam­bling psy­chol­o­gist and also work­ing with sev­eral char­i­ties, in­clud­ing Camp Qual­ity and the Sal­va­tion Army.

Fol­low­ing a stint pack­ing boxes in a fac­tory, Si­mona re­cently be­gan work­ing as a per­sonal trainer for spe­cial needs chil­dren.

“Re­cently an op­por­tu­nity came up to work full-time with spe­cial needs clients. I thought it was a great op­por­tu­nity to give some­thing back,” he said.

Once an NRL speed­ster with the world at his feet, Si­mona was last week chas­ing one of his clients through a shop­ping cen­tre.

“I take the kids out for the whole day,’’ Si­mona said. “One of my clients told me he wanted to go to the shops so I took him to the mall. I had no idea but he doesn’t re­act well in crowds. He had a bit of an episode and took off try­ing to fight ev­ery­one. It was a bit of a mis­sion to calm him down.’’

Set to sign a $1.5 mil­lion con­tract with South Syd­ney be­fore he was stood down, Si­mona now earns less than $60,000 a year.

Si­mona must con­vince the NRL to over­turn his ban be­fore com­plet­ing his rugby league come­back. At least two clubs have al­ready ex­pressed in­ter­est in sign­ing him if he is cleared to re­turn.

‘I have to have league in my life.

I dream of once again play­ing.

I want it more than any­thing’

Pic­ture: Brett Costello

Tim Si­mona was kicked out of the NRL in 2017 for bet­ting on NRL games. He's since re­built his life and is look­ing to re­turn.

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