Rugby league farewells Graham Murray

Wayne Heming Columnist

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    Representatives of clubs and teams he coached laid jumpers on his coffin as hundreds of mourners from around the world said goodbye to a man known simply as ‘Muzz’ in Brisbane on Monday.

    The moving 15-minute ceremony to celebrate the life of Graham Ernest Murray at St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Parish Bulimba was packed to overflowing, with 200 extra seats placed outside the church’s sandstone stairway.

    The congregation broke into warm applause after the jumpers – some with Murray’s number seven on the back – were handed to his daughter Cara and placed on his coffin alongside family photos and other mementos of his life which ended far too early aged 58 last weekend.

    The first jersey draped over his coffin was from the Warwick Farm Stallions – the first club he ever coached. He took the under-14 side from also-rans to Premiers.

    It was followed by jumpers from Parramatta, South Sydney, Penrith, Balmain, Illawarra, rebel Super League club the Hunter Mariners and one from English club Leeds whom he steered to victory in the 1999 Challenge Cup final, a year after losing the Super League grand final.

    Former Penrith premiership winning skipper Royce Simmons handed over a sky blue NSW jersey, while jumpers representing the Roosters, Cowboys, Newcastle, Brisbane club Wynnum Manly, whom he was to be coaching this year and the Australian Jillaroos – who dedicated their recent World Cup victory to their former coach – completed the symbolic ceremony.

    Father Frank O’Dea told the gathering that those from NSW were not allowed pray for the Blues to win the Origin while in the church, but it was alright for the Queenslanders in the church to pray for another series win.

    Murray – who was NSW coach when Queensland began its record eight-series streak in 2006 – would surely have overruled Father O’Dea on that one.

    Among the mourners was a who’s who of the rugby league world. Past and present players, coaches, administrators, media representatives and rugby league fans all paid their respects to Muzz.

    A close family friend re-traced Murray’s life from when he was a talented young rugby league halfback with Parramatta in the late 1970s, who was quickly dubbed ‘The Little General’ or ‘Little Artie’ by his teammates.

    Like Beetson, Murray was a wonderful ball player blessed with great skills.

    “When they (both) played for Parramatta, it was hard to tell them apart, they looked like twins,” he told the gathering during his eulogy.

    “Arthur’s height though was the giveaway.”

    Murray could have been a very good cricketer. He took great pride in snaring a hat-trick as young bowler. The cricket ball was mounted and displayed prominently in his house for all to see.

    Murray was known around the world for his coaching exploits and as someone who put people’s welfare ahead of his own success.

    His daughter, Cara, delivered a moving and often tear-filled tribute about the man she said she would forever be proud to call dad.

    “He was from the old school. He always treated everyone with respect and made them feel welcome,” she said, her voice quivering with emotion.

    “He was a family man. Even when he was a teacher, he knew all cleaners and staff and always acknowledge them by name.

    “He taught me so much.

    “I will miss his words of wisdom, his whacky sense of humour, his great story-telling ability and his enormous generosity.

    “But most of all I will miss his arms around me and the way that always made me feel comfortable.

    “I know everyone talks about him being a great coach, friend and mentor but what nobody else knows like me is how he was as a great dad.

    “He taught me it doesn’t matter if you get knocked down, that all that matters is that you get back up. If I could say anything to him right now it would be: ‘you were the strongest, bravest most loyal human being that I will ever meet in my life. If I turn out to have even half the qualities you had, I will consider myself blessed’.”

    Murray never won a premiership but he took both the Sydney Roosters and North Queensland Cowboys to grand finals and was voted Dally M coach of the Year in 1992 after winning the pre-season Challenge with the Illawarra Steelers, who beat Brisbane.

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