By STEVE MASCORD
IN these pages and others, throughout the winter months, you’ll read about the underbelly of rugby league.
It’ll be broken contracts, feuds between coaches, administrators and players, payments in brown paper bags, media bans, shoulder charges, fights, horrible injuries and people being sacked.
And it will be increasingly easy to believe that everyone in the game is bitter, greedy, compromised, violent, shady or just plain cranky.
But it’s not like that. Certainly, Graham Murray was not like that.
The last time this writer followed a team so closely he watched parts of some games through the gaps between fingers held nervously over his eyes, Graham Murray coached that team.
It was 1992 and Muzz’s Illawarra Steelers had made the finals, meaning I would rather quit my newspaper job than be sent to the Olympics during the play-offs.
We had the sort of relationship where it was difficult to know where on the record stopped and off the record started, and it got us into trouble occasionally. Murray instinctively sought out people he thought had a sense of fun and was naturally wary of those he thought had none.
His success with the Steelers was built on making the pub a compulsory stop after every training session, even if you didn’t drink. Players were so loyal to him they didn’t consider leaving – until the competition expanded in 1995 with all the money that entailed.
I was fortunate enough to be there for the preliminary final in ’92, the World Club Challenge final in ’97, at Wembley in ’99, the 2000 grand final and sat next to him when the Cowboys returned to Townsville for grand final week in ’05.
They were big, big moments in his life and – as colleague Dean Ritchie wrote on Monday – were experiences he was eager to share with friends who will never get to scale those heights. His memories became ours’.
It’s wrong to say Murray never experienced conflict, although there was probably less of it than most other coaches who achieved so much. Like many people who are intensely sociable and outwardly positive, he challenged those who he saw as introducing negativity to his life needlessly.
If you wrote a story before a big game that he didn’t like, or was involved in a conversation with someone who had criticised him, he’d challenge you about it. He didn’t want the great life rugby league had given him to be tarnished.
The night Melbourne was stripped of two premierships in 2010, I watched the evening news with Muzz, his wife Amanda and daughter Cara at their home in Townsville.
Barbecuing sausages that night, it was apparent that Muzz was happy with his role in Queensland rugby league administration, comfortable with his legacy and satisfied that none of the love and affection that enveloped him could be taken away.
He was at peace with a life well spent. Forget the daily intrigue – that’s what Graham Murray gave rugby league and what rugby league gave him.
He should have had many, many more years to savour it.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK