There are few players who make their State of Origin debuts without deserving to do so. But of all the 17 players to debut in the 2018 series, none are more deserving than St George Illawarra back-rower Tariq Sims.
If you had said at the start of the year “Tariq Sims will play for New South Wales this year”, I would have laughed in your face. This is more a reflection of the plethora of edge back-rowers from which NSW can pick, rather than my opinion of Tariq Sims as a player.
My thought process was simple. Sims is a great club player and the Dragons are very lucky to have him. But NSW has the likes of Boyd Cordner, Wade Graham, Tyson Frizell and reigning Brad Fittler Medalist Josh Jackson already in the team, plus Angus Crichton, Joel Thompson, Isaah Yeo and Ryan James on the fringes. He’d be lucky to make the NSW Bs back row, let alone the first team.
Yet here we are, just a few days out from Tariq Sims making his Origin debut in Game 3 of the 2018 Series at the Cauldron known as Suncorp Stadium. But before we look at how Sims broke down the door to NSW selection with some irresistible form, we must look at what he’s been through before this year, and how he’s gotten to where he is today.
Coming from Gerringong on the NSW South Coast, Tariq Sims arrived at the Broncos as a winger. He came up from the Dragons with older brother Ashton – already a first-grader – and younger brother Korbin. Upon arriving in Brisbane, he was instructed by then-Broncos U20s coach Anthony Griffin to bulk up as a move to the back-row was on the cards.
Sims played in the NYC for the Broncos between 2008 and 2010, winning the Toyota Cup Player of the Year Award in 2010. Despite his success in the U20s, Sims never played first-grade for Brisbane. He left at the end of 2010, following brother Ashton to the North Queensland Cowboys, citing his desire for greater first-grade opportunities as his reason for departing.
Sims made his first-grade debut for the Cowboys in round 2 of the 2011 season. He scored his first try in round 3, and his first double in round 13, including a long-range 45m effort.
He played 20 matches and scored 5 tries that year, and was a finalist for Dally M Rookie of the Year and Second-Rower of the Year, and RLIF Second-Rower of the year. At the end of the season he was rewarded with a new 4-year contract with the Cowboys.
He was also called in to train with the NSW team for the first time – a rare feat for a rookie. Considering the wealth of back-row talent that NSW had at the time (Greg Bird, Luke Lewis, Anthony Watmough, Beau Scott and Ben Creagh all in their prime), it was quite an achievement.
However, 2011 was not all positive for Sims, as he suffered the first of two broken legs in a round 25 game against the Cronulla Sharks.
Sims made his comeback from injury in round 5 of the 2012 season. He quickly returned to his barnstorming best, forcing his was into the NSW Country side for his representative debut. He was very impressive in this game, coming off the bench to score a double in Country’s 24-22 defeat at the hands of City.
This performance catapulted Sims into NSW Origin calculations. On the Sunday before Origin camp, he was named as Ricky Stuart’s 18th man. Only hours later would he break his leg for the second time (in the exact same place) while attempting an ankle-tap on Panthers’ forward Cameron Ciraldo. Talk about horrible luck!
Sims came back from injury again in 2013, and while he was solid, you could tell that he wasn’t the same as before. Suffering the same horrific injury on two occasions in back-to-back seasons had clearly scarred him.
He continued on with the Cowboys for the next two years relatively injury free, playing 44 games in that period. He represented Country again twice and played with his brothers for Fiji in the 2013 World Cup.
With a year remaining on his contract, Sims left the Cowboys at the end of 2014 to join his younger brother Korbin at the Newcastle Knights.
Individually Sims had a decent year in 2015. While he still hadn’t recaptured the form that saw him touted as one of rugby league’s brightest prospects, he represented Country again and was called in as injury cover for NSW in Game 2.
From a club perspective, it was a very tough year. The Knights won the first of three consecutive wooden spoons that year, winning just 8 games all season. With the benefit of hindsight, Sims signed for Newcastle at a terrible time.
2016 saw Sims named as one of the club’s 3 co-captains. For the fifth consecutive year, he played for Country, but failed to earn a NSW Blues call-up. Losing so consistently obviously took its toll on Sims – so much so he left for his junior club St George Illawarra, midway through the season.
Sims made his Dragons’ debut against Melbourne in Wollongong in round 15. He quickly cemented a bench spot, and while he was somewhat inconsistent (as he had been for Newcastle the previous two seasons), he produced a memorable man-of-the-match performance in round 23 against the Sharks, scoring two tries and setting up one.
Sims spent the bulk of 2017 on the bench, stuck behind starting back-rowers Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson. However, with the sudden departure of Thompson to Manly in December 2017 came the opportunity to start regularly – an opportunity that Sims grabbed with both hands.
Sims has been one of the NRL’s top back-rowers this year. He has scored 5 tries (all of them barge-over efforts), made 1652m (4th-most of any edge back-rower) and leads the NRL’s back-rowers in tackle-busts with 44.
He has been equally damaging in defense, coming up with 309 tackles (many of them bone-crunching) and missing just 21. Stats aside, he has demonstrated a willingness to take on tough individuals for the benefit of his team (see his battle against Konrad Hurrell in round 3 for reference).
Since starting every week for the Dragons, Sims has recaptured what set him apart during his early years – confidence and with it, intimidation. That is, the confidence to lead with his actions, and to intimidate some of the toughest players in the NRL.
It’s the confidence to stand up and be the enforcer that every top team needs. It’s the confidence to consistently keep an edge-defense together. It’s the confidence to barge through three defenders close to the line and come up with a try when your team needs it most.
This stuff is what sets Tariq Sims apart from other back-rowers. They can all run and tackle hard from time to time, but few can do what he’s been doing all year. This is why, after being a shadow player for games 1 and 2, he has finally forced his way into the Blues' top 17.
For the first time in a long time, Sims is the type of player you know will not take a backward step. You know State of Origin won’t intimidate him. You know the Cauldron of Suncorp Stadium won’t intimidate him.
On Wednesday night he will run onto Suncorp Stadium, becoming on half of the first ever brother-sister State of Origin combination (his sister Ruan Sims being a former NSW captain). And after reading what he’s been through in the last 8 years, can you really say anyone deserves it more than he does?
Does Tariq Sims deserve his State of Origin call-up? Let us know in the comments below.