Sim-ply the best – Ruan Sims

Article from Men  of League Foundation Magazine – Issue 62 – March 2016

The Sims family is close and committed, and unique in Australian sport, not just rugby league that has produced three NRL-playing brothers. At the head of their success is older sister Ruan, dual rugby international, NRL spokesperson and fire officer. By Neil Cadigan

Ruan Sims laughed at the line a friend quipped over the phone recently after a fifth family member reached the top level of Australian sport.

“You should call your mother AIS; she just keeps producing elite athletes.”

It certainly seems appropriate for the Sims siblings from Gerringong, born to Fijian-mother Jaqueline and sports-loving father Peter. They would have to be the most diversely successful sporting family in the country.

The oldest, Ruan 34, is a dual international, having won World Cups for Australia in rugby sevens (in Dubai in 2009) and rugby league (in England in 2013). Brothers Ashton, 31, Tariq, 26, and Korbin, 24, are seasoned NRL players who represented Fiji at the World Cup in 2013 while sister Canecia (CJ), 27, has been chosen for the Australian national gridiron team that will play in the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championship of American Football in Austria.

“I’m beyond proud of what we have achieved as a family,” said Sydney-based fire rescue officer Ruan of her siblings who are spread far and wide. Ashton, after NRL stints with St George Illawarra, Brisbane and North Queensland, is in his second season with the Warrington Wolves in England; the youngest Tariq and Korbin are in their second season together with the Newcastle Knights while CJ is Gold Coast-based, plying her trade with the Stingrays.

But for one weekend, in Auckland in February, Ruan, Tariq and Korbin were together at the one venue on the one day with the brothers representing the Knights in the Auckland Nines and Ruan playing for the Jillaroos against New Zealand’s Ferns in a three-match nines series.

“It was great for us all to be competing on that stage but we were all so busy, we hardly had time to catch up,” said Ruan, who is very much the senior, and inspirational, figure in the eyes of the others.

Said Tariq of the achievements of Ruan, who was a high level junior surf club competition and was in the NSW junior basketball squad: “If she was born a man she would be in the category of Israel Folau and those great code hoppers.

“And full credit to her; she has always done it with a smile on her face in good and bad times and always been professional in how she handles herself.”

Asked how their sister inspires the boys, Korbin proudly announced: “Just through how hard she works to get where she is. She’s been playing sport for a long time now and still wants to be better and play for Australia.” Tariq expanded further: “She inspire us though just how she throws herself onto everything she does. Whether it’s a race out to get the mail, she goes as hard as she can for as long as she can.

“It’s the competitive spirit we all have and she drives those traits in all of us.”

The Sims backyard footy games were certainly competitive, according to the five. Traditionally it was Ruan and Ashton versus the younger three and it was no holds barred!

However, outside of home Ruan played the ‘normal’ female sports of the time like netball, physical culture, from Nippers to progression through the local surf club, all with a large competitive streak and appetite for hard work.

Then one day a friend took a swipe at the Gerringong A grade rugby team that had gone through a season without winning a match, and was hit with a narky reply of: “And I suppose you girls could do better, you don’t even know how to play the game.”

Ruan’s friend decided to form a women’s team and co-opted fellow players’ partners, mothers, sisters, cousins and whoever she could entice to form a team to play in the Illawarra competition. Ruan was the youngest at 17, but a stand-out in a team that won the premiership at first attempt. By season’s end she was the youngest in the Australian team.

A decade later she was a world champion when the Australian team won the rugby sevens World Cup in Dubai. Initially she had to couple a hard training regime and playing with her job with a legal firm and took a break from the sport for a season. However, a career change came after she was convinced by surf boat crew mates to join the NSW Fire Brigade. She applied and was accepted and it gave her the flexibility to fit training and competing at sports with work and she joined her brothers in rugby league in 2011.

In 2013 she was a prominent member of the Jillaroos side that ended New Zealand’s 13-year reign as the world’s best, which included four World Cup titles, with a 22-12 victory at the famous Headingly stadium in Leeds. It was a fitting and emotional farewell for long-time captain Karyn Murphy, now head of the NRL’s integrity unit, fellow leaders Tahnee Norris and Nat Dwyer and certainly Ruan’s career highlight.

Yet, at 34, she is still driven to compete. Until she was awarded the prestigious role as an NRL ‘brand ambassador’ as well as NRL Community Ambassador, one of Ruan’s ambitions was to reconnect with rugby and vie for selection in the Australian’s sevens team at the Rio de Janeiro in August.

“It was something I was interested in doing; I always wanted to go to the Olympics since I played basketball,” she said. “But what NRL and rugby league are doing for me it is more my focus now. It’s such an exciting time for women’s rugby league and me personally career-wise.

“So rugby league, my NRL role and my job in Fire Rescue NSW have my main focus now. You never know, I still may have an opportunity to go there as a coach one day.”

She carries out her ambassador role alongside legendary figures like Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges, Nathan Hindmarsh, Danny Buderus and Anthony Minichiello. It has seen her travel to Adelaide in February to assist with game development with schoolgirls and to PNG in March to preach wellness, anti-domestic violence and anti-bullying. She also impressed as a keynote speaker at a Men of League function.

“I am really lucky that NRL have given me the opportunity in that space and I really enjoy it, including being an advocate for mental health which I am passionate about,” she says.

“Kudos should go to the NRL who have jumped behind women’s rugby league, largely thanks to Gareth Holmes. They waited until they could throw enough funding and manpower behind us to maintain their support and they have given us resources to build on reputation as a team.

“It was only two years ago that we were allowed to have the coat of arms on our jerseys for the first time and to have Harvey Norman as major commercial sponsor means the world to the girls; it is so amazing to have those opportunities.”

Anyone who has seen Ruan play will notice the trademark Sims aggression and physicality’ no half measures. Off the field she is articulate, attractive and as feminine in her demeanour as any woman. And she is conscious of breaking any typecast of female footy players as beefy masculine-like brutes.

“The perception of women playing rugby league has definitely changed,” Ruan says. “Before being feminine was seen as weak [on the field]. One of biggest strengths is being feminine; if you have the skill that’s the important thing. People should appreciate the skill and not what the person looks like, what their gender is or what their sexuality is … it should all be based on what skill set we have.

“Our game is now as lot more tactical and speed based, and through access to the NRL’s high performance system we have a bigger emphasis on strength and conditioning, and that allows us to perform better for longer and show more skill and speed.

“It’s changing and a lot has been driven by the NRL players who we get to interact with them far more often than before. Many of the boys try to get to their game early to watch us [when a Test or representative game curtain-raiser].”

If what the large crowd saw over two days at the Auckland Nines is a typical example, the women’s game has come a long way in speed, skill and as a spectacle.

And at the forefront is Ruan Sims. And she has no intention of stopping any time soon.

The ultimate for the Sims family would to have Tariq (NSW) and Korbin (Queensland) oppose each other on State of Origin night with Ruan playing for the women’s Blues in the curtain-raiser.

“I hadn’t really thought about it but it would be a massive achievement for our family – and for rugby league,” said Korbin.

Watch this space.

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