Rugby League is today mourning the passing of one of the immortal figures of the game, a legend in Australian sport and a champion for Indigenous Australia.

Arthur Beetson OAM died on the Gold Coast today of a heart attack at the age of 66, leaving behind a legacy of sporting and cultural achievement that will never be forgotten.

The first indigenous Australian to captain any national sporting team, he was a giant of the game as a player in the sixties and seventies before in 1980 igniting the greatest rivalry in Australian sport – The State of Origin Series.

As the player who led out the first Queensland Origin team he would symbolise the passion of an entire State and then go on to coach the Maroons to series wins in 1982, ‘83, ‘84, and ‘89. To a generation, he was Queensland.

“Arthur was such an imposing figure in so many ways that I think everyone is having trouble accepting that this has happened,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

“It is almost impossible to do justice to his contribution to the game and the effect that he had on the lives of so many people.

“He was an immortal, named in the Team of the Century, a member of the Hall of Fame - he was a true champion.

“Throughout his career he championed both the bush and indigenous Australia and inspired young players.”

Arthur Henry Beetson was born in Roma on January 21, 1945. His explosive power first emerged in the centres through Roma Cities and Redcliffe before Balmain brought him to Sydney in 1966.

Such was his talent that he would play for City, NSW and Australia in that first year.

Suspension kept him out of Balmain’s greatest moment, the 1969 Grand Final, but few doubted he was one of the keys in making the side what it was.

Still the legend was only just taking form. In 1971, Beetson went to the Roosters under Don Furner and found his way to the 1972 Grand Final.

Then in 1974 one of the greatest partnerships in Australian sport began. Jack Gibson joined the Roosters as coach and looked for a captain.

With the help of a test he’d borrowed from the NFL, he controversially lifted Arthur above all others and established one of the most amazing teams in history.

The Roosters would win the 1974 and ’75 Grand Finals, the latter with a then record score-line of 38-nil over St George.

Along the way Arthur changed the way forwards played with a mixture of ball-handling and iron-willed toughness that few thought possible. He was the greatest ball-playing forward of all time.

He would go on to play at the Roosters for three more seasons before heading to Parramatta, but his next date with destiny came as he led the Maroons onto Lang Park in 1980.

“It was a moment that nobody could ever forget,” ARL Chief Executive, Mr Geoff Carr, said today.

“Others may have made it possible but Arthur gave birth to the passion of Origin.

“He was 35-years-old and at the back end of a great career and he led all the way.

“Arthur as the first Australian Indigenous Captain and Lionel Morgan before him were two leaders who instilled pride in their indigenous heritage. In the process he gave all Australians reason to be proud.”

Beetson was first named Australian Captain in Tests in 1973 and ’74 and was chosen to captain Australia’s World Cup campaign in 1977.

Throughout his illustrious career he would play 47 Tests as well as coaching Australia in 1983 and remaining a selector of Queensland and Australian teams after that point.

Beetson’s playing career ended at Redcliffe in 1981 but as a coach he would define Origin as it moved from a ‘once-a-year-spectacle’ to the definition of sporting passion and rivalry.

He would also coach the Roosters to the finals in 1977 and 1987. His last coaching appointment was with Sharks in 1992 and 1993.


ARTHUR HENRY BEETSON
Born: January 21, 1945, Roma, Queensland

CLUB CAREER
Club
Years
Games
Tries
Goals
FG
Pts
Roma Cities
1963
Redcliffe
1964-1965, 1981
Balmain
1966-1970
74
6
-
1
20
Hull Kingston Rovers
1968-1969
12
1
-
-
3
Eastern Suburbs
1971-1978
131
17
-
-
51
Parramatta
1979-1980
18
1
-
-
3
Total
235
25
-
1
77
REPRESENTATIVE CAREER
City - Country
City Seconds
1971
1
-
-
-
0
City Firsts
1966-1977
9
-
-
-
0
Total
10
-
-
-
0
Sydney
v Touring Teams
1966
1
-
-
-
0
New South Wales
v Queensland
1966-1977
17
3
-
-
9
v Touring Teams
1966
1
-
-
-
0
Total
18
3
-
-
9
Queensland
State of Origin
1980
1
-
-
-
0
v New South Wales
1981
2
-
-
-
0
Total
3
-
-
-
0
Australia
Test Matches & World Cup
1966-1977
28
1
-
-
3
Tour Matches
1972-1975
19
3
-
-
9
Total
47
4
12
Grand Total
All Senior Matches
314
32
-
1
98

Beetson toured with the Kangaroos in 1973 and played in World Cup sides in 1968, 1972, 1975 and 1977 (as captain).

He captained Australia in two Tests (1973 v France, 1974 v Great Britain) and went on to coach Australia in 1983 (2 Tests against New Zealand – winning one and losing one).

He captained Queensland in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980. He coached the side from 1981-84 and 1989-90 to 11 wins and five losses. He coached Queensland to series wins in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1989.

At club level, Beetson coached Easts from 1977-78 and 1985-88, taking them to the finals in 1977 and 1987. He coached Cronulla in 1992-93.

He was named an Immortal of the game by Rugby League Week in 2003.

Source: David Middleton, League Information Services