Goulburn league legend passes away

Goulburn league legend passes away

One of the finest players to ever don a league jersey in Goulburn has passed away. Ron Ackland, a backrower in New Zealand’s Team of the Century and former Goulburn United skipper, died in Auckland on Friday night after complications arising from heart surgery.

A service to celebrate his life takes place in Auckland this afternoon. He will be cremated privately. Ackland was 78.

Despite death, his influence on Goulburn rugby league will never be forgotten. Ackland, in 2007 named as a second-rower in New Zealand’s Team of the Century, coached Goulburn United from 1965 through to ’70.

His death comes in the weeks after that of United’s no.1 supporter, the late Val Finley. Combined, their losses leave a gaping hole in Goulburn’s rugby league landscape.

Former NSW Origin captain and Cronulla-Sharks Immortal Gavin Miller was quick to pass on news of Ackland’s death. So too was present day Goulburn Workers Bulldogs manager John Payne, a man who played alongside Ackland in United colours during the ‘69 and ‘70 seasons.

While a fierce competitor on the paddock (and someone who fronted the judiciary on a semi-regular basis), Ackland was a gentleman, Payne says.

“He was terrific. He taught everyone how to play. He was really good with everyone, it didn’t matter who they played for,” Payne explained.

The history books agree. A photograph and caption published in a Goulburn Evening Post edition of July, 1969, depict Ackland sharing some advice with up-and-coming players. “United captain-coach Ron Ackland gives St. Pat’s boys advice before their match in the Monaro Schoolboys’ tournament at North Park”, the caption reads.

His mark on Goulburn’s rugby league history covers little of the ground he made in New Zealand. Historians to this day struggle to fathom how Ackland, named alongside New Zealand’s finest ever player Mark Graham in the Kiwis’ Team of the Century, only played 18 Tests. Injury and age intervened, however.

He went onto coach the Kiwis during their darkest hour – a 12-year victory drought against nemesis Australia. His international debut, against Great Britain in 1954, owns a special place in New Zealand Rugby League folklore. It coincided with a courageous 20-14 victory.

“No one at Wingham Park that day could have foreseen that Ackland, then a willowy centre, would become one of the great second-row forwards,” league historian John Coffey wrote.

“Ackland broke an ankle on the 1956 Kiwis tour to Australia and was still a midfield back in the 1957 World Cup team. His second coming as a forward occurred two years later, and he was an automatic choice from then until his retirement in 1963 after 18 Tests and 20 other matches for New Zealand.

“The pace, determination, slick ball handling and pinpoint passing was not diminished, but this was a bigger and stronger version of the prototype who had played in the centres.”


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