The James Ackerman Cup was founded in 2016 following the tragic death of Sunshine Coast Falcons front rower, James 'Ackers' Ackerman, who passed away during a match at Bishop Park in 2015.
In 2016, both the Falcons and Ackers’ former team, the Redcliffe Dolphins, introduced the James Ackerman Cup in honour of his legacy.
2019 is the Dolphins' turn to host the match, to be played this weekend in Round 2 at Dolphin Stadium after the Falcons played host in 2018.
The James Ackerman Cup means many things to many people.
To the Falcons - players and staff, it means a lot more than ‘just a game’. It is a chance to reflect on their former teammate who played the game tough and with his heart on his sleeve.
Ackers never took a backward step on the football field, right up until that tragic day in 2015; he enjoyed a bet and a beer off the park with his teammates and loved his children, family and mates immensely.
For that reason, the 2019 James Ackerman Cup will mean the world to one returning Falcon in particular.
Todd Murphy and Ackers were best friends for 15 years, since they first met at the age of 10.
The pair played majority of their junior football for the Caloundra Sharks and Falcons, attended Mountain Creek State High School’s Rugby League Excellence Program, and gained contracts to the Dolphins, which later led to dual contracts at the Brisbane Broncos.
The 2019 James Ackerman Cup will be a whirlwind of emotion for the Falcons halfback.
Not only will this be his first James Ackerman Cup game, it will also be contested at Dolphin Stadium – the last home field they shared as teammates.
“Yeah the James Ackerman Cup for myself obviously means a lot... I think the game itself for the club is a big moment," Murphy said.
In 2015, Ackers returned home to the Falcons to spend more time with his young family, particularly his children Olliver and Milly (then three and two).
“Murph” returned to the Brisbane Broncos.
The incident occurred just six days after Ackers’ 25th birthday, with his entire family at Bishop Park watching on. He was going to retire at the end of the 2015 season.
Murphy still has difficulty speaking about his best friend and the memories they shared.
However in a fitting tribute, Todd will lead the Falcons onto the field Saturday night hand-in-hand with Ackers’ son Ollie - Murphy and Ackerman, taking the field together one more time.
“Ollie is obviously Ackers’ son so if we can put a smile on his face for that moment in time than I’m all for it," Murphy said.
"He’s still young but he knows what’s going on so to run out beside him, it means a lot to me.”
It is not the only tribute Murphy expresses to Ackers; he sports a bear claw tattoo on his upper right shoulder blade for the man with the ‘bear-sized’ hands, a gesture to signify Ackers will be with him wherever he goes.
Murphy is not the only person who will be moved by this Saturday’s clash.
Team trainers Darren “Shippo” Shipley and Russell Gee, team physio Jess Turnbull, and club ‘Mr-Fix-It’ James Downes were also at the field that fateful day.
Shippo recalls his time with Ackers: “Ackers was the pinnacle of strength and toughness on the footy field and gave it his all.”
“The James Ackerman Cup is held in the highest regard to both the Falcons and Reddy (Redcliffe), as a fitting tribute to Ackers," Shipley said.
"There is so much emotion surrounding this match and it is played hard and with passion and pride.
"This year the Falcons will bring it home where it belongs.
“A lot of the club culture is built around the Ackerman family and the legend of the toughest footballer.
To see new players and coaching staff join us and buy into that culture makes the Falcons a family and that’s something to be proud of.”
Sam Wright is the only remaining Falcons player from the 2015 squad, however he is not the only current player to appreciate the enormity of this weekend’s match.
Following the 2015 incident, the Falcons, after consultation with the Ackerman family, announced the retirement of the number eight jersey throughout all Falcons teams.
This was done to honour James, and ensure his legacy is ingrained throughout the Falcons players and staff - past, present and future.
Jersey No.18 is now worn in its place in both the 18s and 20s teams.
In Round 1 of 2019, Trent Schaumkel was the player selected to wear the No.18 jersey in the Intrust Super Cup side.
Schaumkel questioned the absence of the No.8 and was overawed with the response he received.
“To start with I was a bit shocked that we don’t have a number eight jersey… but when I did find out why I thought it was a great way in remembrance," Schaumkel said.
"It’s a good way to honour his family as well and show that the club was there for him.
“(The James Ackerman Cup) is a big thing obviously, for both teams.
"It sounds like he was a great bloke. Everyone showing their support towards him and for him, and for his family - it will be great.”
Lachlan Roe is the player named to wear the No.18 jersey this weekend.
“To be chosen to wear the No.18 in honour of Ackers, in front of his friends and family, is a massive honour for me," Roe said.
"It’s not something I take lightly. I’m definitely going to put my best foot forward and do the best that I can for my team.”
The Redcliffe Dolphins have won all three James Ackerman Cup clashes since its inception, and will be tough to beat in front of a home crowd.
However with a new squad, new coaching staff, and a newfound determination to get the ‘W’ for their mates, the Falcons will prove a force to be reckoned with.
It is sure to be an action-packed game full of passion and raw emotion – a game not to be missed.
“…We play for our mates and that’s all that matters. Every time we win, we’re doing it for Ackers!” – Sunshine Coast Falcons team song.
Match: Dolphins v Falcons
Round 2 -
Venue: Dolphin Stadium, Brisbane