The Courier-Mail

Walker broth­ers may be New­cas­tle’s knights in shin­ing ar­mour


THE par­ents of James Ack­er­man have pleaded with rugby league play­ers to avoid mak­ing them­selves tar­gets of shoul­der charges and stop run­ning the ball straight and hard from kick-offs.

While for­wards thun­der­ing into the de­fen­sive line with a head of steam brings crowds to their feet, Michael and Sonya Ack­er­man ar­gue the en­ter­tain­ment value is not worth the safety risk.

The Ack­er­mans lost their son six weeks ago af­ter an illegal shoul­der charge.

They were dis­ap­pointed last week when ex-play­ers called for the shoul­der charge to re­turn af­ter a huge and illegal hit from Rooster Kane Evans on Bull­dog Sam Kasiano.

They are glad the de­bate took place af­ter NRL chief ex­ec­u­tive Dave Smith not only ig­nored calls to le­galise the tech­nique, but in­creased penal­ties for shoul­der charges.

Five weeks’ worth of sus­pen­sions were handed out for shoul­der charges last round, the first un­der the new rules.

The Ack­er­mans watched their 25-year-old son be placed into an in­duced coma at Bishop Park in late June af­ter run­ning straight and hard at Bron­cos prop Fran­cis Molo.

Molo’s shoul­der hit James’ chest and the whiplash ef­fect sev­ered ar­ter­ies in his neck.

Michael Ack­er­man said fans, play­ers and the media did not fully un­der­stand how dan­ger­ous whiplash was.

Michael and Sonya cringe when­ever a player runs the ball back straight and hard.

A kick-off re­turn is the only time in a league game where at­tack and de­fence col­lide with a 30m-plus run up.

“You should be able to run the ball back and not worry about some­one shoul­der IP­SWICH co-coaches Ben and Shane Walker have moved a step closer to launch­ing their NRL ca­reers af­ter be­ing short­listed for the New­cas­tle post.

The bat­tle for the Knights job was con­sid­ered to be a race in three be­tween Nathan Brown, Pen­rith NSW Cup coach Garth Bren­nan and for­mer Bron­cos men­tor An­thony Grif­fin.

But the Walker broth­ers have rock­eted into the frame, charg­ing you,” Michael said. “Play­ers need to change their tech­niques. The rules were put there three years ago to pro­tect the player run­ning the ball.

“There are bet­ter ways to tackle. A kick-off re­turn is the time when a player is most vul­ner­a­ble.

“I hope this is the good that comes out of this, that play­ers re­alise it can be you ... what hap­pened to my son can hap­pen again.

“The game is not what it was. The play­ers are too big and too strong.

“The game is good enough with­out the shoul­der charge.

“I have seen play­ers like Steve Matai make good le­gal tack­les that do not war­rant a penalty.

“What if Sam Kasiano was only 100kg? The whiplash ef­fect would have dou­bled.

“It was up­set­ting to hear some NRL greats call­ing for it to come back.

“There are fans out there who want your child to be their en­ter­tain­ment. It is ridicu­lous. It is just a sport.”

The calls to de-power the kick-off re­turn di­rectly mir­ror Amer­ica’s NFL, where a spate of head in­juries on re­turns prompted author­i­ties to change the kick-off from the 30 yard line to the 35 in 2011, re­sult­ing in fewer re­turns, more touch­backs and a dra­matic de­crease in con­cus­sions.

One ex-player who ini­tially called for the shoul­der charge to re­turn fol­low­ing Evans’ hit on Kasiano was Sonny Bill Wil­liams, per­haps the tech­nique’s great­est ex­po­nent.

Wil­liams back­tracked af­ter read­ing Ack­er­man’s death was the re­sult of a shoul­der charge.

“As much as I love the shoul­der charge ... safety must come first! Such a sad story #keep­it­banned,” he tweeted.

The Ack­er­mans saw the tweet and wanted to thank Wil­liams for his ma­tu­rity. with Knights of­fi­cials last night con­tact­ing the pair to re­quest their coach­ing CVs.

The broth­ers for­mally ap­plied for the job last week and have been backed by Bron­cos coach Wayne Ben­nett, who has praised their un­usual style which has turned the Jets into an In­trust Su­per Cup fi­nals force.

The Walk­ers have spent five years re­fin­ing their rad­i­cal for­mula, dubbed “con­tract football”, and are con­fi­dent their tac­tics can suc­ceed in the struc­tured world of the NRL.

Ben Walker de­clined to com­ment last night but his younger brother Chris, the for­mer Ori­gin star still play­ing with the Jets at 35, is adamant the duo would be a rev­e­la­tion at the Knights.

“Their coach­ing philoso­phies will work in the NRL, I have no doubt about that,” Chris Walker said. “Peo­ple who think their style could not work haven’t watched the way we play or un­der­stand why we do the things we do in games.

“Ben and Shane have spent a long time work­ing on their struc­tures and try­ing to get things right. I hope they get a chance in the NRL one day be­cause it will be a breath of fresh air for rugby league.

“As a player who is play­ing un­der their style, I’m lov­ing it. They have cre­ated a great, in­clu­sive cul­ture at the Jets and they would be the right fit for the Knights.’’

While the Knights have sounded out the Walk­ers, the door re­mains open for Grif­fin, who was sacked by the Bron­cos 13 months ago.

The 48-year-old was last month ap­pointed by Ip­swich’s In­trust Su­per Cup ri­vals Red­cliffe for next sea­son, but the Dol­phins would not stand in his way if Grif­fin clinched the Knights post.

Grif­fin went close to se­cur­ing the Wests Tigers coach­ing gig this sea­son, to lose out to Jason Tay­lor. He had four sea­sons at the Bron­cos, with a 53 per cent suc­cess rate.

 ??  ?? HARD HIT: Michael and Sonya Ack­er­man (above), and Sam Kasiano (be­low)
faces the full force of Kane Evans. Pic­ture: AAP
HARD HIT: Michael and Sonya Ack­er­man (above), and Sam Kasiano (be­low) faces the full force of Kane Evans. Pic­ture: AAP
 ??  ?? IN THE FOLD: New­cas­tle Knights are con­sid­er­ing, (from left) An­thony Grif­fin, Garth Bren­nan, and Ben and Shane Walker.
IN THE FOLD: New­cas­tle Knights are con­sid­er­ing, (from left) An­thony Grif­fin, Garth Bren­nan, and Ben and Shane Walker.
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