Queensland debutant Francis Molo plans to reach out to the Ackerman family when he feels up to it, admitting he is still burdened by the tragic death of the young footballer in 2015.
It has been six years since Molo was suspended for eight weeks for the tackle which resulted in the death of Sunshine Coast footballer James Ackerman, but the 26-year-old is still carrying the mental scars of the incident to this day.
Molo has not yet contacted the Ackerman family in the wake of the tragic accident, but said he plans to when he feels ready to confront what has been a difficult situation for him to overcome and continue his rugby league career.
“I will do it [reach out to the family]. When the time is right for myself I will do it," Molo said.
“But that’s a personal thing for me and I feel like when the time is right for me I will do it.”
There were times throughout the ordeal when Molo wanted to quit rugby league forever.
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He was contracted to the Brisbane Broncos at the time, but after two years out of the Broncos system playing for Norths Devils he received a call from Townsville Blackhawks coach Kristian Woolf with an offer to move north in mid-2017 and try to rebuild his NRL career.
It proved to be a turning point in his career with then Cowboys coach Paul Green signing him to the NRL club the next season and from there he has rebuilt himself into a regular NRL player and now a Queensland Origin debutant.
“It was like a lifeline for me. It was Kristian Woolf who gave me a call to get me to the Blackhawks and they train under the Cows [Cowboys] and he instilled a bit of belief and passion back,” Molo said.
“It was good to get out of my comfort zone and I’m just grateful for getting a couple of games under Greeny, he gave me my debut and I’ve been going ever since so I’m grateful for that.
“I’m not going to lie I did [think about quitting] but I had a really good support network back then.
“Back then sometimes I didn’t want to do it for myself but I know I had the support network, I had my little girl, I had my family and I did it for them and they helped me back on my feet to get me going and I’ve just been going since then.”
Molo initially missed the phone call from Maroons coach Green on Sunday to invite him into Origin camp, but since then he’s been living on cloud nine and been taken under the wing of his idol Josh Papalii.
“I still think I’m in a dream (to get my debut). I am over the moon about it and still can’t believe I am here,” he said.
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“It’s always been a childhood dream and I’m just soaking it up day by day. Just trying to enjoy as much as I can. I know the week is going to go so fast and I’m enjoying the week to be honest.
“I missed (Green’s) call originally but lucky I still had his number saved in my phone from last year.
“I couldn’t sleep that night. I was over the moon about it. I can’t wait.
“I look up to Papa and he has taken me under his wing now so I’m just hanging around with him, I am starstruck. There are so many quality players around and I just can’t believe I am here with them.”
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Ben Hunt was at the Broncos when Molo was battling to overcome the Ackerman tackle and praised the 26-year-old for being able to find his way out of the dark times.
“He is a good kid Frankie, a really good fella. I had a bit to do with him at the Broncos there and I know that was a really tough period there for himself,” Hunt said.
“As teammates (at the time) it was just trying to get his mind off it I guess and get him around training and trying to get him enjoying himself again and playing some footy.
“We weren’t trying to talk about actually what happened or the incident, it was just trying to get him to move on and enjoy life again.
“He really struggled with it for quite a long time and I think the best thing for him was getting out of Brisbane, getting away and getting a bit of a fresh start.
“It’s a real credit to Frank, I know he has gone up there and really dedicated himself to his game and worked really hard and now he is getting the reward for it.”
At 183cm and 112kg Molo is by no means the biggest forward, but what he has shown at the Cowboys this year is a strong commitment to his defence with a tackle efficiency of 97.2 per cent and the ability to make an impact off the bench.
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While Molo does has a skilful offload in his game, simplicity will be key to his game in Origin on Sunday.
“I’m not going to try to overcomplicate things, I think Origin is pretty simple footy but just really tough, physical and fast,” Molo said.
“I will just be trying to do my best to bring my energy, make a difference and try to do my best when I come on.”
Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.