Friends and family are rallying around a Brisbane Broncos footballer involved in a tackle that resulted in a player’s death as administrators ponder how to handle the difficult situation.
Sunshine Coast Falcons forward James Ackerman died in a Brisbane hospital on Monday after suffering a critical head injury in a Queensland state league match against the Norths Devils at Bishop Park on Saturday night.
The 25-year-old father of two was felled in a tackle in the fourth minute of the game and suffered a major brain injury.
The player who was involved in the tackle, Francis Molo, is reportedly “not in a good way” and being offered support.
Molo is contracted to the Broncos and made his NRL debut for the club last year.
The Queensland Rugby League is facing a difficult decision about whether to examine the tackle now or at a later date.
Normal procedure would involve the competition’s match review committee assessing footage of all weekend incidents on a Monday night, with a charge sheet made public on a Tuesday.
But QRL officials are weighing up whether it is better to delay the process out of respect for Ackerman’s family for a few days or perhaps a couple of weeks – or to push on, so that Molo can be either cleared of any wrongdoing or charged as appropriate.
The tackle has been described as a “freak accident” and it is unclear whether the there was an illegal act however contact was made with Ackerman’s head.
Molo’s manager Simon Mammino told News Corp he was receiving counselling and support.
Ackerman was taken to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and never regained consciousness.
He was taking the ball up from the kick off and suffered a blow to the head.
Medical staff worked on Ackerman for 55 minutes at the ground before he was taken away in an ambulance.
Falcons chairman Ashley Robinson said his main concern was making sure Ackerman’s family was supported and cared for.
The Falcons are offering counselling to their players while the Melbourne Storm, which is a Sunshine Coast affiliate club, have flown up their player welfare manager.
The Broncos and Storm are already planning to hold a major fundraiser for Ackerman’s family before their round 20 clash at AAMI Park.
Ackerman is survived by his wife Saraa and young children Olliver and Milly, parents Michael and Sonya and brothers Andrew and Thomas.
The Falcons said they did not know if they would go ahead with the scheduled game against the Townsville Blackhawks in Townsville on Sunday and it would depend on the timing of Ackerman’s funeral and the state of mind of the players.
Ackerman was a junior of the Sunshine Coast and played with local club Caloundra. He received a Brisbane Broncos scholarship as a youngster and played for the club’s under 20s team in 2009 and 2010.
He returned to the Sunshine Coast to play with the Falcons this year after spending time with Broncos feeder team the Redcliffe Dolphins.
Robinson described Ackerman as quiet, stoic and loved by all.
“He was one of those guys who could be relied upon, he was a good solid forward who just loved the game,” Robinson said.
“He was a man of few words. If I said I had spoken 100 words to him in the seven months he had been here, that would be an exaggeration.
“It was just `yes’ and `no’ and he always had a smile on his face. It was no wonder the players loved him, he never said what had to be done, he just did it.
“He always delivered and this is just a tragedy.”
Ackerman’s death is sadly not the first on an Australian rugby league field this year.
On Mother’s Day, Ballina father Zane Purcell, 29, was playing reserve grade for the Lower Clarence Magpies when he was hurt in a tackle and later died in hospital.
Former Welsh international Danny Jones, 29, died in May after suffering a suspected heart attack during a third-tier match in England.
In April, Nicholas Tooth, 25, collapsed after making a tackle while playing rugby union in Quirindi, northern NSW, and passed away the next day.