When you look back at a career, you can look at the statistics, games won, who you beat, what was achieved and your record as a player and a coach to set your house in order. The other way is to look at who you interacted with, how you made them better players, better people and if you left the game is a better position than before your began.
Graham Murray was the type of person that was more concerned with his players and how they were as people and players than the records, not because he did not care about the score line, but because if his players were the best person that they could be, the results would follow. His career, as a player, began at Parramatta and, as the skipper of the reserve grade side. He led them between 1976 and 1980 whilst International Player John Kolc was the halfback for the 1st grade.
After serving his apprenticeship, he was denied the role on Kolc’s retirement due to the nose with great hands in Peter Sterling, who with a flash of blonde brilliance, helped form the core of the legendary 80’s Parramatta side. This pushed Muzza off to South Sydney where he helped them snaffle the 1981 Tooths Cup, which was the mid-week knock out tournament held in the early rounds of the competition year. Whilst his playing years did not yield great success, he was frequently playing with some of the legends of the game and well respected for his on field organisation.
After leaving for country footy, he stayed with the game he loved by becoming a coach. A stint with the Penrith Reserves led to a premiership in 1987 and he moved on to Balmain before taking the step up to first grade.
Starting in Illawarra, Graham was involved in a number of teams that were after the type of coach that builds the club and culture as the foundations for future success. His involvement with the Hunter Mariners for the single year of Super League led to him being the only casualty of the club as he fought hard for his players to be assured of a future after the ill-fated venture. With no side left to coach he was quickly snapped up by the Leeds Rhinos where he took them to the Grand Final and was successful in winning the Challenge Cup in 1999. As was the nature of UK league, he was let go for a former club champion and he made his way back to his home shores.
Replacing some hack called Gus Gould at the Roosters, he led them to a Grand Final on 2000 but as seemed to be his lot, they fell short against the dominant Brisbane Broncos in a classic game. After two seasons, he was dismissed by them and he headed back to his “real’ job as a high school mathematics teacher. It was a short lived change as he was lured north and replaced Murray Hurst during the 2002 season as coach for the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Cowboys had been the perennial strugglers since their inception, the poor country sons of Queensland, they had bobbled around racking up a collection of wooden spoons and failed to complete for the Finals since their 1995 inception. The change in culture and the brilliant signing of under-rated Bulldogs young gun Jonathan Thurston gave life to the organisation and in 2005, he was on the sidelines as they fell just short in the Grand Final. His impact was noticeable and was named as the Head Coach of the first team of the decade for the Cowboys.
He resigned during the 2008 season and was missed by most.
He played a major role in getting the Australian Women’s Rugby League team, the Jillaroos, ready to defeat New Zealand for the first time prior to his deteriorating health led to his resignation as Head Coach before the 2013 World Cup. He passed away on the 28th of July 2013, survived by his wife of 29 years, Amanda and their daughter Cara.
Most who remember Muzza as a person or a coach remember him as a firm but caring man. He was often found discussing League at any opportunity and his knowledge and passion of the game was boundless. I was fortunate enough to meet him and talk league in a small pub in Townsville a couple of years after he had finished with the club.
His legacy was evident when the North Queensland Cowboys won their first Premiership in 2015, with many players remembering Graham as the coach that began the rise from the basement to this ultimate pinnacle. He was supportive of his players and wanted them to be great people who played the game he loved.
The best player of the World Club Challenge Cup Final, to be held at Headingly Carnegie Stadium on the 21st of February, will be awarded the Graham Murray Medal. It will be presented in the presence both his Wife and Daughter, invited to England for this special occasion. It is fitting that players, from two of the clubs in which he was integral to introducing the culture that led to their topping of each of their leagues, who will be fighting it out for this honour.