Only 16, Simmons is regarded by many as one of the most promising players the Hunter region has produced in years. In July he came off the bench and bagged a goal in his first-team debut in a 2-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua in Hakoi.
Despite his tender age, Simmons has already been training with the Jets’ first-team with an eye to getting a taste of the A-League in 2018-19.
“I’ve been training with the first-team on and off,” Simmons told The World Game.
“I guess my goal is to hopefully earn a starting spot in the first-team, but I mean just getting minutes under my belt in the A-League – that’s my ultimate goal.
“I’m just working on improving myself, working hard and training with the first-team at the moment.
“Ernie’s main focus with me is just playing front-half football, football in the front half. He wants me to score goals and be confident in my presence on the field.”
Newcastle CEO Lawrie McKinna has likened Simmons to Socceroo Mustafa Amini, while former A-League Golden Boot winner Daniel McBreen describes the teenager as a “good little player.” McBreen has coached him in the Emerging Jets program for several years.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on a young boy, but I think he’s got the potential to play in the A-League,” McBreen said.
“He’s been training with the first-team once a week for the past six months and doesn’t look out of place. He’s definitely a very talented footballer, he’s got a very good football brain; his positional sense, his awareness of what’s around him and, plus, he can play with the ball at his feet.
“He’s one of those kids where if I said we had a three-week break and I asked if anyone kicked a ball in the break. The hands would go up, and then if I said did anyone kick a ball every second day, his would still be up.
“And if I said did anyone kick a ball everyday, his would still be up. He just loves it. He’s great with the ball at his feet and you can tell. Soon as I came in and he was in the squad I was like this kid has got something.”
Born in Bathurst, Simmons moved to Newcastle at the age of four. He took up football in the Hunter and has been part of the Jets academy since he was nine years old, apart from one season with Central Coast.
“Originally I’m from Bathurst, that’s where I was born,” Simmons explained.
“I moved to Newcastle when I was four for my parent’s work. I started playing football when I was around five or six at the local club Kotara South Tigers. That’s where I started and I just loved it from when I started.”
Simmons has represented Australia at Under-15 level and last year was named player of the tournament in the National Training Centre at the Australian Institute of Sport. In 2018 he made 17 appearances and scored one goal for the Jets’ youth team in the Northern NSW National Premier League against men.
The playmaker can play across the midfield and models his game on Croatian maestro Luka Modric.
“I prefer to play 10, but wherever I can get on the park I’m happy with,” he said.
“I can play six and eight, I can hold and attack, but preferably I like to play up top and score goals and create goals.
“Modric had a pretty good World Cup. The way he moves the ball, creates chances, that’s who I’d like to be like.”
Simmons went on tour with Newcastle’s first-team in July where the Jets took on Beijing Goan, Shanghai Shenhua and Sydney FC. The 16-year-old caught the eye with a well-taken goal against Shenhua.
“It was great, versing some of these big names in China,” he said.
“I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was lucky to get a run and enjoyed every moment of it. My debut was special, something I’ll never forget.
“It was a pretty lucky finish, it was a good ball from Gus Thurgate who set me up. The week away with the first-team is something that not many 16-year-olds get to experience and I’m grateful for Ernie to give me the opportunity, and Lawrie McKinna and Labinot Haliti for pushing me up.”
Newcastle has a proud history of producing quality talent over the decades such as Ray Baartz, Reg Date and Craig Johnston. Simmons has ambitions to play overseas at some stage but wants to establish himself at home first.
“There’s some role models around Newcastle and I look up to them,” he said.
“But what they’ve done in their careers is something to aspire to and being a local boy they’re modeling out for us. I’d love to go overseas but I’d rather cement my spot here in Australia, get some minutes under my belt.
“I’m not ready yet but I’m open to options. I’ve got to cement myself here and get my name out first.”