Legendary Ron Ackland passes away

New Zealand rugby league has lost one of its true legends after former Kiwi Ron Ackland (pictured) passed away last night following heart surgery.


A foundation Vodafone Warriors member (WARR-2446942), Ackland was lauded as one of the games most exceptional talents throughout his playing career in the 1950s and 1960s.


A second rower who combined physical presence with uncommon power, pace and skill, he was an automatic choice in the New Zealand Rugby League Team of the Century named in 2007 as well as being an inaugural inductee in the NZRL Legends of League in 1995 and being named in the Auckland Rugby League Immortals in 1990.


Ackland, who was 78, became Kiwi No 354 when he made his debut in the centres in 1954 before going on to carve out a reputation as one of the all-time greats. He captained the Kiwis in 1961, played at the 1957 and 1960 World Cup tournaments and also coached the national side from 1976-1978.


During his playing days Ackland had the distinction of being involved in three Test wins against Australia including a rare Kiwi success in Sydney in 1959. That he should be restricted to 18 Tests was due to injury and also missing the long-form tour of Britain and France in 1961.


After finishing his Test career in 1963 he moved into coaching, first with Goulburn and Inverell in Australia before returning home to coach Mount Wellington in the mid-1970s, and doing so with singular success. Building his side around the outstanding Sorensen brothers Dane and Kurt, Ackland guided the side to victory in Aucklands Fox Memorial grand final in 1976.


He also became Kiwi coach that year but his tenure coincided with a period when the Kiwis were in the doldrums, a time when they went 12 years and 14 straight Tests (1971-1983) without a single win against Australia.


New Zealand rugby league historian John Coffey wrote Greymouths sole Test, the 20-14 victory over Great Britain in 1954, was notable for launching Acklands international career.


But 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, he said.


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.


In the later stages of his international career Ackland combined with fellow Aucklander Don Hammond and Canterburys Mel Cooke to form one of the greatest loose forward trios in Kiwi history. Ackland captained the Kiwis in the tied two-Test home series against the Kangaroos in 1961, but later that year was one of several prominent players to withdraw from the tour to Britain and France when the NZRL refused to increase the players modest tour allowances.


He returned to share in two record 19-point victories over the 1962 Lions at Carlaw Park and to tour Australia for a third time in 1963. After retiring from international football, Ackland was cleared to play in Australia and became a prominent player-coach at Goulburn and Inverell in NSW. He coached the Kiwis in the 1977 World Cup tournament and on the 1978 tour of Australia.


At Auckland club level. Ackland played for Mount Albert, Eastern United and Southern Districts and City-Newton.


In more recent time Ackland was a fixture at Mount Smart Stadium, becoming a season ticketholder/member when the Auckland Warriors entered the Winfield Cup in 1995. He was there again for the final home game of the Vodafone Warriors 2013 season against Canberra, taking up his customary spot in the Lower West Stand just in front of the coaching box near the tunnel. Poignantly there behind him just a few metres back in the box that day was his nephew John in his last game at Mount Smart Stadium as Vodafone Junior Warriors coach.


RON ACKLAND


Tests and tours: 1954 (2 home Tests v Great Britain), 1956 (toured Australia, broke ankle), 1957 (World Cup, played v Australia), 1959 (toured Australia, played all 3 Tests), 1960 (2 home Tests v France), 1960 (World Cup, played all 3 Tests), 1961 (2 home Tests v Australia, captain), 1962 (2 home Tests v Great Britain), 1963 (toured Australia, played all 3 Tests).


Awards:

Foundation inductee of Auckland Rugby League Immortals 1990

Inaugural inductee of New Zealand Rugby League Legends of League 1995

Second-rower in New Zealand Rugby League Team of the Century 2007