For a second consecutive year coaching has taken a back seat for Brisbane mentor Wayne Bennett, as his NRL club rallies around Francis Molo.
Shattered forward Molo was supported by teammates when he appeared at Broncos training on Thursday just days after the tragic incident involving Queensland Cup player James Ackerman.
Sunshine Coast forward Ackerman died in a Brisbane hospital on Monday after suffering a critical head injury during a match against Broncos feeder club Norths Devils on Saturday night.
Molo’s tackle on Ackerman was referred straight to the Queensland Rugby League judiciary for a hearing at a “date to be confirmed”.
Bennett said 20-year-old Molo “needs to be with his teammates” as he tries to cope with the tragedy – a situation the veteran coach is sadly all too familiar with.
Last year Bennett was coaching Newcastle when Knights forward Alex McKinnon suffered his serious spinal injury in a tackle.
On the eve of Brisbane’s clash with Newcastle at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, Molo and his Broncos teammates were in need of the master mentor’s renowned man management skills.
“It seems to go with the territory these days, coaching is in the background a little bit,” Bennett said of dealing with tragedy.
“It’s making sure everyone in the club is handling the situation, particularly Frank.”
Molo has received counselling since the incident and the NRL has reportedly sent welfare officers to Brisbane.
Bennett said the best thing for the off-contract Broncos forward was to get back to his normal routine at the club.
“He needs to be around his teammates. He was here this morning,” he said.
“It’s pretty optional at the moment what he wants to do and what he doesn’t.
“No one has put any demands on him or telling him what he should or shouldn’t do. We are just supportive of him.”
The QRL have been criticised for their handling of Molo’s charge but Bennett would not weigh in on the issue, only confirming that they had organised legal representation.
Molo’s judiciary date is expected to be set after Ackerman’s funeral, which will be open to the public, at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Wednesday.
Brisbane players are expected to wear black arm bands in memory of Ackerman in Friday night’s game.
Offers of support continue to pour in for Ackerman’s family.
About $14,000 has already been raised through a trust fund established for Ackerman’s wife and two children.
A major fundraiser in Ackerman’s honour involving the Broncos and the Melbourne Storm – a Sunshine Coast affiliate club – is also in the works.
Fans are also paying tribute on social media by posting pictures of footballs outside their front doors with the hashtag #putoutyourfooty, similar to the tribute to former Test batsman Phillip Hughes.