Sport James Ackerman: Ex-Bronco recruit's shoulder charge caused death but police right not to lay charges, coroner finds

15:23  09 november  2017
15:23  09 november  2017 Source:   ABC News

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A coroner has found the Brisbane Broncos should have done more to teach Francis Molo how to avoid shoulder charging opponents after causing the death of James Ackerman in a 2015 Queensland Cup match.

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A Sunshine Coast rugby league player died after a shoulder charge so forceful that it ruptured an artery in his neck, a Queensland coroner has found.

Falcons forward James William Ackerman died in hospital two days after being hit by the tackle during a game against the Norths Devils in Brisbane in 2015.

Coroner John Lock told the court Francis Molo made no contact with Ackerman's head or neck but the force upon his shoulder was enough to rupture an artery, resulting in death from a traumatic haemorrhage.

At the time Molo was under contract with the Brisbane Broncos but playing for feeder club the North Devils.

He said the Queensland Police Service made the right decision not to investigate the death as a criminal matter and the Queensland Rugby League had handled the matter well by introducing bans.

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But he said Molo was cited for two other similar tackles in other matches and the Brisbane Broncos did not appear to address it.

"It was clear that Francis was not spoken to specifically about shoulder charges or how to avoid them after James' death," Mr Lock said.

"[Molo] was receiving counselling for some period of time.

"The evidence led from a number of witnesses was that James relished the heavy contact of rugby league."

Shoulder charges were banned by the NRL in 2012 but Queensland Rugby League told the four-day coronial inquest in Brisbane in July that players were still cited with the offence on a weekly basis.

Molo was given a nine-match suspension for the fatal hit.

He has now signed a one-year contract with the North Queensland Cowboys, after spending last season playing for the Townsville Blackhawks in the Queensland Cup.

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Ackerman's wife Saara and his mother Sonya Ackerman were in court for the findings.

Sonya Ackerman said she was very disappointed in the Broncos and that Molo was never spoken to about his shoulder charging.

"All we wanted from this was for the game to move forward and be a lot safer," she said.

"The rule has always been there and it's happening every week in the game so obviously it's not working.

"Two more tackles were committed in the 2016 season and that should have been a sign, a red flag to do something then and nothing was ever done."

Sonya Ackerman said it was lucky another serious injury had not happened since.

"We've never spoken to Francis. Never ever heard from Francis. I don't know that it would help though," she said.

Sonya Ackerman said James' son was struggling with the death of his father.

"All he wants is his Daddy or to be able to go to heaven to see his Daddy," she said.

"That's really killing us.

"James did nothing wrong but we are the ones with a life sentence."

Brisbane Broncos chief executive Paul White said the club would take time to consider the findings to ensure the safest possible environment for all players.

Mr White, who appeared at the inquest, said everyone at the club offered their deepest condolences to the Ackerman family.

"James was someone who loved his rugby league and to lose him this way has been heartbreaking for his family," he said.

"We all extend our heartfelt sympathy to the Ackerman family and we hope this inquest will go some way to improving safety across the entire game."

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