Rugby league lost one of its true gentlemen Sunday night when former Cowboys coach Graham Murray passed away. He was 58.
Murray will be fondly remembered from all points of the rugby league globe, having achieved fantastic success as a coach in Queensland, NSW and England.
But his coaching record and remarkable success only tell a small fraction of the story of rugby league’s loss.
The game has also lost one of its friendliest and most likeable characters. A man who shared a terrific passion for the code, and created lifelong friendships within it.
Murray was to coach Wynnum Manly in the Intrust Super Cup this season, a club he had led previously as CEO.
But a heart attack in the pre-season put paid to those plans.
He was weakened, but fought on.
A second cardiac arrest, this one on the day of the State of Origin series decider, proved too much for him to tackle.
He had been in the Intensive Care Unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane since.
On Sunday the family he adored – wife Amanda and daughter Kara – made the agonising decision to switch off the life support system that had been keeping him alive.
With true grit, Muzz managed to fight on for a few more hours, as word of his worsening condition spread through the code.
But at 9.44pm EST Sunday night, a solemn text message from Wynnum Manly CEO Scott Thornton confirmed the worst. One of the game’s good blokes was gone.
“Muzza” will always hold a special place in the hearts of Queensland rugby league fans, for being the man who finally untapped the potential of the North Queensland Cowboys – lifting them to their first finals appearance in 2004, and then all the way to the grand final against Wests Tigers in 2005.
He worked similar feats everywhere he went, with the Illawarra Steelers, the Hunter Mariners and with the Sydney Roosters, who he took to the grand final against the Broncos in 2000.
A proud Blue, he was unfortunate enough to take over the NSW State of Origin coaching job in 2006 and 2007 just as Queensland’s greatest era was dawning.
He was so well liked, Muzz achieved the impossible – he made it hard to hate the Blues.
As much as Queenslanders wanted the Maroons to win, there was a part of us that wanted the Cockroaches to at least get close, just so it wouldn’t be too hard for Muzz.
In an age where rugby league coaches can take things all too seriously, Muzz was affable, approachable and always keen for beer and a chat.
But it was in Leeds in the north of England where Murray was truly worshipped, winning a Challenge Cup against the London Broncos in 1999.
He will never be forgotten by the Headingley faithful, who used to chant on the terraces, “There’s only one Graham Murray.”
They were absolutely right.
He will be missed greatly.
May he rest in peace.