HE’S living the life in the south of France but Limoux Grizzlies second rower Paul Ivan admits he would rather be running out onto Sunshine Coast Stadium today in the black and gold of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
It’s not that he’s unhappy lining up for the Grizzlies in their French Federation of Rugby League Elite 1 clash with AS Carcassonne on Sunday.
Far from it.
Ivan’s former clubs, the Redcliffe Dolphins and Sunshine Coast Falcons, will contest the inaugural James Ackerman Cup – a prize both clubs wish they didn’t have to play for.
They’d trade anything to have former Dolphins and Falcons forward Ackerman charging onto the ball in either club’s colours in their Round 5 Intrust Super Cup match.
Instead, they are vying to etch their club’s name onto the trophy in memory of the talented young rugby league player who tragically died two days after being injured in a tackle in an ISC match last season.
Ivan was playing for the Falcons alongside Ackerman in the match against Norths Devils at Brisbane’s Bishop Park last June when tragedy struck.
“It was a tough day. I haven’t talked about it a great deal, not a whole lot. It was pretty scary, to be honest,” Ivan, 29, said.
“He had his family there watching and to see that … I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty scary.”
In the wake of the incident, Ivan said he’d thought about retiring from rugby league but knew Ackerman wouldn’t want that.
“It definitely changed how I thought about footy,” Ivan said.
“It makes you realise there is more to life than footy. I was almost ready to give it away, to be honest. It’s hard, I thought that way for a little while. But I know that’s not what Ackers would have wanted.
“They’ve got the James Ackerman Cup this weekend, Reddy vs the Sunny Coast and I wish I was there for that. I wish I was there for the first one. I’m not, but that’s life.”
Instead, he’ll be helping Limoux’s charge towards the club’s first FFR XIII Elite 1 championship in nearly 50 years.
Limoux last celebrated a championship win in 1967-68 when they upstaged AS Carcassonne 13-12 in the premiership decider.
They’ve secured a berth in the 2015-16 Lord Derby Cup final against St Esteve Catalans Dragons and are on track to feature in the grand final after winning their first two matches of the season’s second phase.
Since returning from an eye socket injury midway through the season Ivan has played an integral role in the centres and in the backrow for Limoux.
I had no hesitations about coming over at all, and I loved my first season here. I sort of wish I had come over here a bit earlier to be honest. Limoux is a great town. – Paul Ivan
A Sunshine Coast Snakes junior, Ivan progressed through to the senior ranks at the coast with Kawana Dolphins, where he played alongside older brother Daniel, before catching the eye of talent scouts.
He was selected in the Queensland under-19 team in 2006 and invited to trial for a place at the Parramatta Eels ahead of the 2007 NRL season.
He impressed there and found a spot in the Eels’ Jersey Flegg (under-20s) team, playing an instrumental role alongside now established NRL stars Trent Hodkinson, Tim Mannah and Tony Williams as Parramatta charged towards a grand final berth.
The Penrith Panthers were too good on the big day, however Ivan’s season earned him an extension at the club.
Unfortunately his time at the Eels came to an end in the most unlikely of incidences before it really had the chance to take off.
“I had a bit of an accident sliding down a hill on a boogie board and snapped my syndesmosis,” Ivan said.
“I just fell backwards and my leg got caught in the wrong position and snapped. It was just boys being boys having a bit of fun.”
The injury sidelined him for nearly four months and forced the 198cm tall centre into returning to Queensland, where he joined Norths Devils in the ISC for the remainder of the 2008 season.
He signed with Redcliffe in 2009 and spent five seasons there, during which he turned down an opportunity to join Limoux in 2012 in the hope of securing a spot in the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos.
“I was doing the preseason at the Broncos and a bloke from Limoux messaged me on Facebook to see if I was interested,” he said.
“I ended up saying no because I had some things here to sort out. I gave him Marty Hatfield’s number and the next day Marty said he was heading over to France.”
Hatfield joined the Grizzlies for the 2012-13 season, however Ivan remained in contact with Limoux and at the end of the 2014 ISC season decided it was time to head to the south of France. He wishes he’d made the decision earlier.
“I had no hesitations about coming over at all, and I loved my first season here,” he said.
“I sort of wish I had come over here a bit earlier to be honest. Limoux is a great town.”
He answered an SOS from coach Oliver Janzac ahead of the 2015-16 season and decided to head back for another season, and hasn’t regretted it.
“I had a week to decide and I thought, ‘Why not?’ and we went from there,” he said.
“It’s been a great decision. Last year was a bit tough because we had a lot of juniors stepping up. Now those juniors have a lot of Elite 1 experience under their belt.
“The club is reaping the rewards now. They’re all stepping up to the plate and we’re playing well as a team.
“Everyone is real tight. I don’t know whether it’s because we’re in a small town but it doesn’t matter if you’re an Aussie or a Kiwi or a Frenchie, you’re all treated the same. A lot of the credit has to go to the coach for looking after the boys. The boys are keen at training and turn up on weekends.”
Ivan’s one season in France has already turned into two, and he’s yet to rule out a third.
After finishing the season with the Grizzlies he’s keen to return to the Falcons for the second half of the 2016 ISC season.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get to stay and do the preseason with the (Sunshine Coast) boys,” he said.
“Everyone is pretty young there and I was excited to work with them but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to come back here. I’ll be going straight back there after the season here.
“I’m excited to get back there and try and fight my way back into the Cup team at the Sunny Coast. They’ve got a good team at the moment so I’ll have a fight on my hands.
“I wouldn’t mind coming back (to France) but who knows what life will bring while I’m back home.”