How former coach Anthony Griffin turned Tariq Sims into a wrecking ball

NSW Blues' Tariq Sims. Photo: James Brickwood
NSW Blues' Tariq Sims. Photo: James Brickwood

SO we already know a few things about NSW’s latest debutant Tariq Sims. Like the fact he hits like a truck.

How he is built like an Adonis and rips his shirt off in nearly all of his Instagram posts. That he has overcome two broken legs.

And the family of superstars, including his two talented sisters and two league-loving brothers.

His mother, Jackie, one of 11 Fijian kids, is a former WNBL, rugby and surfboat champ, and goes by the nickname ‘‘AIS’’ because of the ‘‘sporting stars she produced’’.

But while talking with proud family members, who will all be there for Tariq’s first Origin on Wednesday – brother Ashton will be tuned into a TV in Toronto, where he will watch it with his Wolfpack mates – it’s hard to go past the extraordinary tale about Sims and his first meeting with coach Anthony Griffin.

Griffin is the same bloke who is supposedly set to split with Phil Gould and Penrith, but Sims praised the coach for setting him on a different path, ultimately leading to what will be the biggest moment of his career at Suncorp Stadium.

Two days after finishing high school, Sims packed his bags and left picturesque Gerringong, on the NSW south coast, for Brisbane, where he had a deal with the Broncos.

Sims was just 78 kilograms and a winger by trade.

Yes, seriously, a winger.

‘‘I weighed 78 kilograms holding two buckets of water,’’ Sims recalls.

Griffin, then at the Broncos, had too many wingers, among them Jharal Yow Yeh and Gerard Beale.

So, he told Sims, if he wanted to survive up north, he needed to go away, pile on 10 kilos and come back prepared to play in the forwards.

‘‘I did a pre-season with the [under]-20s on the wing when ‘Hook’ called me in,’’ Sims says.

‘‘I’d received a parking ticket earlier that morning so I was already having a bad day. Then Hook said: ‘I’m sending you back to [feeder club] Norths Devils. I want you to put on 10kg so you can play in the middle’. I thought to myself, ‘That’s impossible’.

‘‘So I ended up changing my diet. I was getting up in the middle of the night to eat banana and peanut butter sandwiches. I got up to 90kg and walked into Hook’s office and said, ‘Guess what, I’m 90kg’. In typical Hook fashion, he said, ‘Yeah, that’s all right’.

‘‘I said, ‘Am I a chance?’ and he said, ‘You can come off the bench’. I came off the bench [in the under-20s] that year, then halfway through the season he said to me, ‘If you don’t come back at 100kg next year, you’re not playing for me’. I thought to myself, ‘Far out, this bloke is into me every day’. At half-time in every game, whether I was playing good or bad, he’d just give it to me. That was no secret.

‘‘I didn’t understand it at the time. I just thought this bloke didn’t like me. I was this ‘grom’ from the south coast and a bit of a ratbag.

"So in 2010 I got to 100kg, I walked in and told him, and he said, ‘You’re my starting prop this year’.

"Looking back on it now, I know what he was doing. Hook is actually a massive reason I’m a first-grader today.’’

Sims finished 2010 as the Toyota Cup’s best player. That was when Blues coach Brad Fittler recalls first crossing paths with him.

The following year, when Sims ironed out Braith Anasta during one of his first NRL games, Fittler raced over to him afterwards to interview him for Channel 9.

Sims hated the fuss. In fact, the cameras never picked up on it, but Sims had a water bottle and started squirting Fittler. By the end of the chat, Freddy was soaked. ‘‘I didn’t want the attention,’’ Sims recalls.

Fittler added: ‘‘I do remember him spraying me that night. He’s always been a bit cheeky.’’

Cheeky is one word that continually popped up when Sims family members spoke about ‘Taz’. For those who don’t know, Sims is the fourth sporting prodigy in a family of five.

Ruan is the eldest. She played rugby for Australia and more recently rugby league for her country.

The smile on her face as she interviewed Tariq on Nine’s 100% Footy on Monday night was beautiful.

Tariq Sims in action as a Gerringong Lions junior.

Tariq Sims in action as a Gerringong Lions junior.

Ruan recalled one of her favourite stories when Tariq was about eight and he kicked into gear when he heard his mum arrive midway through a game for the Gerringong Lions.

‘‘It was like mum’s voice galvanised ‘Taz’ into action,’’ Ruan says.

‘‘He ran straight through the team, then he did this giant swan dive as he scored a try. He ended up winding himself on the ball.’’

Ruan reckons mum Jackie will still be heard among the 50,000 souped-up Queenslanders when watching her boy on Wednesday.

Then there’s Ashton, who played more than 200 NRL games. He loved watching wrestling with his brothers on Saturday nights and then trying to replicate what they had just seen.

The boys slept on a triple bunk.

One particular night Tariq decided to impersonate the late Jimmy Superfly and attempt the ‘‘superfly splash’’, only to slam into the floor.

When dad Peter marched down the hallway to see what the commotion was about, the boys pretended to be asleep. But the blood pouring out of Tariq’s nose blew his cover.

CJ was the third child. She now calls Queensland home and was annoyed her siblings had pinched all the funny stories about Tariq.

An Australian gridiron representative, CJ is pushing hard to represent the Maroons in rugby league in the near future.

Korbin, the bub of the family, also calls Queensland home. To his credit, Korbin was sticking solid and barracking for Queensland.

‘‘I don’t care if Tariq is playing, I’m still going for Queensland,’’ says Korbin, who will run out for the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. ‘‘Origin is still a sore point with the family. Whenever it is on, we don’t talk about it or bring it up. Idon’t want to see the [Blues take a] clean sweep, [but] I’ll also support the grub wearing the NSW No.14 jersey.’’

Korbin, Tariq and Ashton locked horns in plenty of spirited games in the backyard. Their home was two doors down from ‘‘Mr Cronin’s pub’’ (league legend Mick Cronin). Korbin did not hesitate when asked who hit the hardest in the family. ‘‘Ruan,’’ he says.

According to Peter, Tariq was always fearless. Like the time CJ dared him to leap off a four-metre ledge. ‘‘He was only six-years-old,’’ Peter says. ‘‘Jackie spotted him as he hit the ground. He rolled and then ran off. Jackie was going to throttle him. If the fall didn’t break his neck, Jackie would have.’’

While he is physically imposing, Tariq also has a big heart.

Jackie made a point of getting to WIN Stadium last week to watch the Dragons scrape home against Parramatta.

Seated in front of her were some special-needs children. One of them even posed with the Dragons mascot.

At the end of the game Tariq went out of his way to chat with one of the young fans.

You can’t imagine him doing that at Suncorp.

Then again, nobody thought Sims would one day play in the forwards.