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Tributes pour in for Sharks founding father and rugby league innovator Bob Abbott

Cronulla players will wear black armbands in this weekend's match against Gold Coast in honour of Bob Abbott, who has been hailed as one of the club's founding fathers and a rugby league innovator.

Abbott, who passed away on Wednesday in Kareena Hospital aged 90, was instrumental in the establishment of the State of Origin concept and the six-tackle rule, as well as the Sharks.

He left a profound legacy in helping to build the foundations of the Sharks during the club's inception into the premier rugby league competition in 1967, and also worked tirelessly to develop the game in the emerging states and across the Pacific.

Abbott, a former ARL general manager, was pivotal in moves to establish the game in Fiji in the early 1990s.

"Bob was an important figure in the central administration of the game for 20 years," NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said.

"He was deputy chairman of Cronulla in 1967, became vice-president of the NSWRL in 1977, and was appointed general manager of the ARL in 1983. He was and always will be a vital part of rugby league's progression."

Cronulla's first delegate to the NSWRL, Abbott continued as a Sharks vice-president and was one of the figures instrumental in bringing the Sharks Immortal Tommy Bishop to the club in 1969, while also flying to the UK to sign the great Cliff Watson.

Sharks chairman Dino Mezzatesta expressed the sentiments of all involved at the Sharks in thanking Abbott for his outstanding contribution over many years.

"I want to express our deepest gratitude to Bob on behalf of our current board but also from all past chairman and directors, for his vision, his passion and the legacy that he left behind, one which is not only about the Sharks but also recognises his contribution to the game of rugby league," Mezzatesta said

"Bob was responsible for many wonderful initiatives in making the game better and at the same time the Sutherland Shire a better rugby league community.

"We are saddened by his passing and offer his family our deepest sympathies."

Sharks CEO Barry Russell added: "Bob was a great man who made an outstanding contribution to the Sharks. All members, fans and players past and present should be very thankful for his efforts over many years.

"We will be making application to the NRL to wear armbands on Saturday night in honouring Bob and recognising his legacy at the Sharks." 

While still attached to the Sharks, Abbott joined forces with the Australian Rugby League in the 1980s helping with a number of the game's innovations, most notably the increase in the tackle rule from four to six.

To prove the worth of six tackles, Abbott instigated a four-club competition in 1970, sponsored by the Sharks and contested by the clubs who missed the semi-finals – Cronulla, Newtown, Balmain and Easts. Newtown beat the Sharks 13-11 in the final but the competition proved the worth of the six-tackle rule, one of the most important rule changes in the history of the game.

Abbott also advocated bringing the Pacific Island nations into international rugby league long before others and drove the early promotions of grand final day celebrations in the early 1980s.

In 1975, he was appointed manager of the Australian World Series team, the first Sharks official to be accorded such an honour.

In 1983, he was the first general manager of the Australian Rugby League Incorporated and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) in 1990.

His greatest rugby league moment however, may have been watching the Sharks first premiership victory in 2016, achieved in their 50th season, justifying the work done by him and some many others during those five decades.

Abbott was also in constant contact with Shane Flanagan in recent years, offering the Sharks head coach his astute observations on the game.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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