Promising rugby league player died in ‘unforeseen and tragic accident’

Huddersfield Giants academy player Ronan Costello. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Huddersfield Giants academy player Ronan Costello. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

A promising Rugby League starlet was killed by a catastrophic head injury after slipping moments before a crunching tackle, an inquest heard.

Ronan Costello, 17, died three days after the collision which took place during the first half of an under 19s rugby league game on June 11.

Huddersfield Giants youngster and former Brighouse Rangers player Ronan had been playing for his side against Salford Red Devils youth team when he lost his balance causing his head or chin to crash into an oncoming double challenge.

An inquest heard moments before contact was made by onrushing Devils’ players Adam Jones and Aaron Moore, Ronan had lurched forward causing his head to end up where his waist should have been.

Bradford Coroner’s Court heard Jones’ shoulder collided with Ronan’s chin or head knocking him backwards.

Ronan, a second row forward, then fell onto his knees before falling backwards, hitting his head hard on the ground after he fell.

Referee Nicholas Bennett for the match at the Dram Centre, in Hudderfield, told the court in a statement: “The match had been ongoing for 32 minutes.

“Costello had taken a pass. He had then tried to step around the tackle, but must have slipped and was in a horizontal position.

“His head and upper body were waist high.

“Jones’ arm was around Costello’s chin.

“Costello went onto his back. I saw Costello’s head hit the ground.

“He looked like he was trying to sit up but could not manage it.

“The physio and doctor were there in seconds and they were treating Costello on the ground.

“They signalled an ambulance was needed.

“I abandoned the match around 15 minutes after the incident.

“I believe this was a tragic accident and Jones and Moore had no time to react due to Costello slipping.”

Doctor Justin Tankard who treated Ronan on the pitch said he was struggling to breath and his pupils had dilated when he reached him on the pitch.

Dr Tankard said: “There was something that did no feel right about the way Ronan fell. I grabbed my oxygen and ran onto the field.

“He began to fit and his breathing was a little odd.

“I fitted an oxygen mask and moved him onto his side.

“I could see his pupils were dilated and I knew this could suggest he had a bleed to the brain.”

In a statement read to the court, Adam Jones said he considered giving up the game following the tragedy but said he still believed his tackle was good.

He said: “Ronan had the ball by the 20-metre line.

“I went into tackle him and tried to take him down. I went for the chest area.

“As far as I was aware it was a perfectly good tackle.

“Ronan had not got up and was spitting.

“All the players came off the pitch and went back into the changing rooms and then the game was cancelled.

“Because I was involved in the tackle I felt responsible, even though I knew it was good.

“For a long time I contemplated not playing rugby again. I’m still upset about what happened.

“I wish I could change what happened but I know it could happen to any player.”

Ronan was flown to hospital in Leeds by air ambulance following the incident but was pronounced brain dead on June 14.

Assistant Coroner Philip Holden said: “He seemed to be a very fit young man at the time of his death.

“I am satisfied that he cause of death was severe traumatic brain injury.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner added: “It is clear this was a tragic death of a really promising young rugby player who was doing what he loved at the time of his death.

“This was an unforeseen and tragic accident.

“About 30 minutes into the game he received a pass and lent forward into a tackle possibly as a result of loss of footing and his head or chin came into contact with a Salford player.

“It did not set out to be a malicious tackle.

“It is likely the Salford players could not do anything to avoid the tackle.

“He was taken to hospital but he was unable to recover and sadly passed away on June 14.”

In a statement issued through the Rugby League Benevolent Fund after the hearing, Ronan’s family said: “The family are absolutely devastated by the passing of Ronan.

“He loved playing rugby league and was proud to play for Huddersfield Giants.

“The family acknowledge Ronan died as a result of a tragic tackle.

“They do not wish to apportion blame.”