He was born to play footy: Goodbye James, we'll miss you
HE WAS born a footballer and died a footballer, but James Ackerman was so much more.
A father, a husband, a son, a brother, a mate and an undoubtedly good bloke.
That was the man that about 1500 mourners gathered to farewell at Sunshine Coast Stadium yesterday morning.
There was no pretentiousness.
Big men who batter and bruise on the field were placing hands on shoulders, arms around their mates, offering a quiet word, wiping away tears.
They were towers of strength, but in a different way than they were used to.
As James' best mate Todd Murphy gave an emotional tribute, another close friend Tyson Brough, who spoke of how he'd miss his mate's laugh, along with his father, Rob, stood alongside Todd, gripped his shoulders and gave him the strength to get through a speech nobody hopes to have to make.
The love held for the father-of-two was a tangible force in the stadium.
James' uncle, Darren AhSee, spoke of a kid who had loved sport, loved his mum and dad, who grew to become a tremendous father.
He recalled how a brief crack at AFL as a schoolboy was quickly abandoned - there was only ever one type of footy 'Ackers' was born to play.
"He was a gentle giant who lived every day as if it was his last," Mr AhSee said, planting a kiss on James' casket as he finished.
Another uncle, Tony Hart, spoke of the pride the family felt about James' life, both on and off the field.
"From his first game of footy to the last, we were so proud of him and what he achieved," Mr Hart said.
"We will always love you James."
While James' former schoolboy and junior football coach Rob Brough remembered coming across "the little bloke with the big chest and shoulders" as a youngster, James' kids, Ollie and Milly ran around, much like their old man might have, too young to grasp the enormity of the occasion.
"As a coach you're looking for a player you can build your team on ... one you can rely on," Mr Brough said.
"You could rely on James.
"He was a quiet kid but my goodness he thought a lot about things."
Broncos' coach Wayne Bennett appeared on a video tribute to James, telling the crowd that while his loss would stay with the rugby league fraternity forever, it had shown the strength of the game, and the compassion flowing within the rugby league community.
That compassion came to the fore since James' death, following an incident during a tackle in an Intrust Super Cup game against Norths on June 20.
Todd Murphy spoke of his mate of 15 years, how he found fun in the simplest of tasks, even mowing the lawn.
"Life for the big fella was all about enjoyment," Mr Murphy said.
"He did things in Ackers' time and when he pleased and everything he did, he did it because he loved it.
"I love you brother, your mate, Todd."
James' young kids, Ollie and Milly, paid tribute to their dad in a statement read by their uncle.
"We will always love our daddy and we will miss him very much," the statement said.
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As James' junior footy jerseys adorned the stage, Falcons' chairman Ashley Robinson took to the lectern, paying tribute to the Ackerman family for the strength and grace they'd shown since the tragedy.
"There'll be a story to be told, a memory to be had ... Ackers will always be remembered," Mr Robinson said of the Falcons' decision to permanently retire the number eight jersey.
Melbourne Storm's Queensland director of coaching Matt Adamson asked the crowd gathered to open their arms to the family long-term, as they come to grips with their loss, before passing his thoughts on to James' grieving teammates.
"You've got to turn up in three day's time on this very ground and play the toughest game of your life," Mr Adamson said, telling the Falcons lads he would hold them in his prayers, as they tried to move forward.
As the Dubbo junior footballer was loaded into the funeral car, delivered by his father, brothers and close mates, the crowd formed a guard of honour around the field, as Ackers was given a final lap of honour, to the tune of Wiz Khalifa's See You Again.
James' parents Michael and Sonya, so strong throughout, held each other as their son, a young man gone too soon, began his final journey.