NRL coach Wayne Bennett has paid tribute to footballer James Ackerman in an emotional funeral on the Sunshine Coast.
Appearing on a big screen in front of hundreds of mourners, Bennett praised Ackerman’s parents and his wife Saraa for their handling of such a tragic situation.
“Courage is something we all hope we have and all hope is a part of us,” Bennett said.
“I’ve got to say you’ve shown so much courage in all of this and through your wonderful gestures and your understanding of what’s happened here, you’ve lightened the load for so many people.
“I know it’s in your most tragic hour but at the same time you’ve shown courage and bravery way above your station.”
The 25-year-old father of two died in a Brisbane hospital last Monday as a result of a head injury sustained during a Queensland Cup match two days earlier.
The crowd on Wednesday was filled with family, friends and rugby league identities, including Queensland State of Origin legends Alfie Langer and Kevin Walters, NRL chief executive Dave Smith, current Maroons captain Cameron Smith and Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
The Storm is the NRL club affiliated with Ackerman’s team, the Sunshine Coast Falcons, and the stadium is the Falcons’ home ground.
Smith missed a training session on the Gold Coast to pay his respects to Ackerman, a former Brisbane Broncos under-20s player.
Ackerman’s death lead to an outpouring of grief from all corners of the rugby league community for the hard-nosed front-rower, who was well-liked by teammates and opponents.
The tackle that felled him is yet to be reviewed by the Queensland Rugby League with the other player involved, Francis Molo, not in a state to front the judiciary or resume playing.