TRAGEDY: James Ackerman playing for the Falcons. contributed
TRAGEDY: James Ackerman playing for the Falcons. contributed Warren Lynam

One tackle changed how Ashley Robinson felt about rugby

ASHLEY Robinson heard the "thud" from the other side of the field as James Ackerman was shouldercharged in the game that claimed his life.

The Sunshine Coast Falcons chairman has spoken for the first time of the events surrounding the day - and how it has changed his perspective on the dangers to players.

Ashley has never been one for "cotton-wooling kids" and is walking evidence of the rigours of the sport, but he says he now cannot support shouldercharges.

He has words of advice for commentator and former Blue's coach Phil Gould, who has been leading a call for the style of tackle to be brought back.

"He hasn't experienced what this club has been through and involved in the aftermath," he said.

"I can see both sides of the argument but I would be a hypocrite, after what we've been through, not to say I believe they should be banned."

Ashley rushed on to the field with other players and support staff after James, a 25-year-old father-of-two, collapsed after the tackle.

"He was unconscious, but we all kind of believed he was only knocked out," he recalled.

They were given more hope when a doctor on site said James's vital signs "were good".

That hope was dashed within hours.

"I received word from a (medical) friend later that night that he had the same injury as Phil Hughes (the cricketer who died after being hit in a neck by a bouncer on November 27)."

The next day Ashley and the entire Falcons outfit went to the hospital to say their goodbyes.

"We were told unless there was a miracle, his life support would be turned off."

Three days later, James died and his organs were donated to help others.

The outpouring of grief and community support for the Ackerman family and the Falcons players has inspired Ashley.

And if any good could be seen in such a tragedy, it was how "the young players reacted to this".

The team stood down from the next game - and were penalised for this, initally forfeiting the game points.

This has since been reviewed.

Ashley hopes there will be lessons learnt in an ongoing Queensland Rugby League review of major incidents.

He also hopes the amount paid out to players who die on the field would be reconsidered as the Ackerman family will only receive a $200,000 insurance pay-out.

"How do you replace someone's whole working life with $200,000. It isn't enough," he said.

Ashley admitted he didn't know James well, but respected him "immensely as a player and a person".

"After dealing with his family in this tragedy, I can understand where he got his mettle from," he said.

The accident had put sport and "winning and losing" into perspective: "When I look back now at what I have got out of the game over the two years with the Falcons, as weird as it sounds, the one good from this tragedy has been with the way the young players dealt with it and has brought us all closer together."

Ashley also praised lawyer Peter Boyce for helping the Ackerman family organise James's funeral, Sunshine Coast Council for its "amazing support of the club" and the staff at the Falcons for going above and beyond.

He hoped people would continue to support the Ackerman family, with a major fundraiser planned for next week.

The Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm, NRL and QRL are joining the rest of the rugby league community on Friday in a special event to raise funds for the James Ackerman Family Trust.

Tables are being sold and auction items are being generated to support James's wife Sarra and two children, Olliver, 3, and Milly, 2.

It is the day after the Thursday night final home game again against the Storm in Brisbane.

The event is being held at the North Leagues and Services Club in Kallangur and coach Wayne Bennet and nine players will attend alongside Storm coaches and players.

To learn more about this event, visit the Queensland Rugby League website at qrl.com.au and search for the James Ackerman Family.

You can donate to the Ackerman Family Trust Fund via direct deposits at Bank of Queensland, BSB: 124001, Account No: 11500777 Ref No: 151181

 


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