Red to miss idol battle
QUEENSLAND Reds lock Rob Simmons is going to find it strange playing against the Western Force at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium tonight because it will be the first time his hero Nathan Sharpe won't be in the men from Perth's line-up.
Sharpe, the Wallabies most-capped forward and two-time John Eales medallist, brought the curtain down on his decorated career in Cardiff last December after the former Force captain led the Wallabies to victory against Wales in his 116th and final Test.
Now Sharpe has swapped his boots for a microphone and TV commentary duties, and Simmons is really going to miss the duel he used to relish - going head-to-head with Sharpe.
"My run-on debut for the Reds in 2010 was against the Force and Nathan," said Simmons, who earned his 50th Queensland cap against the Waratahs earlier this season.
"We played against each other about four times and we always had a good battle - there was nothing better than testing yourself against the best in the business and Nathan had been that for a long time.
"It just won't be the same seeing him on the sideline and not in the thick of the action."
But how is it Sharpe became such an idol for Simmons?
"I started playing rugby when I went to Southport School just like Nathan had done a few years earlier - he was like a god there," Simmons, 23, said.
"He was the player I watched as much as I could when I was learning the game and I wanted to play like him."
Simmons was born in the small Queensland town of Theodore - population 453 - some 565km north-west of Brisbane, and shares his birthplace with 1957 US Open tennis champion Mal Anderson.
Like Anderson, Simmons has gone on to play on the international stage, winning 23 caps for the Wallabies since making his Test debut off the bench against the Springboks in Brisbane in 2010.
Simmons toured Europe with the Wallabies last year, but played just one game after he copped an eight-week suspension, which was later reduced to five on appeal, for a dangerous lifting tackle on French player Yannick Nyanga in the 33-6 loss in Paris in November.
It meant he missed the wins over England and Italy, as well as Sharpe's farewell Test - he is keen to put that disappointment behind him.
"My focus is currently on playing well for the Reds and ensure we have a successful Super Rugby campaign," he said.
"Saying that, I'd love nothing better than to pull a gold jersey over my shoulders again and represent my country."