“Old people have memories, young people have dreams”.
That was not only a favourite saying of John Chalk’s but a motto he lived by during a life-time of service to rugby league in which the Balmain plumber became one of the game’s most innovative and influential administrators.
Chalk, who passed away on Friday, was the founding chairman of Wests Tigers and one of the key architects behind the establishment of the Australian Rugby League Commission in 2010.
In both instances, Chalk used his negotiating skills to convince others to put aside emotions and politics for the future of the game.
A long-serving Balmain official, he oversaw the 1999 joint venture with Western Suburbs to ensure both clubs maintained a presence in a rationalised NRL competition and negotiated the terms of News Corp’s withdrawal from the game in 2012.
He was also involved with South Sydney chairman Nick Pappas, QRL director Terry Mackenroth and News chief operating officer Peter Macourt in selecting the inaugural eight ARLC commissioners, and negotiated a massive increase in funding for clubs while serving on the NRL partnership committee.
The establishment of an independent commission to take over the running of the game from News will be considered Chalk’s enduring legacy after he declared it was time “to park all our egos and get the big end of town involved in the administration of the game”.
“It’s a sad day for the game of Rugby League following the passing of John Chalk,” NSWRL Chief Executive and former Wests Tigers chairman David Trodden said.
“John was a tireless administrator and a visionary who served on the boards of the NSWRL, ARL and NRL during a crucial period of the game’s history.
“He always acted with integrity, made decisions with Rugby League’s best interests at heart and wasn’t afraid to fight for what he believed in.
“The game is worse off for his loss. We have lost a leader, a colleague and a close mate.”
ARLC Chairman, Peter Beattie AC, said the passing of Chalk would be felt across the rugby league community for many years to come.
"John was one of the best administrators the game has ever been fortunate to include,” Beattie said. “He never lost his sense of inclusiveness or his humility at any level of the game, no matter who he engaged with.
“He was a visionary who wanted only the best for rugby league and he will be remembered for his determination to see this game succeed, with a willing sense of unity.
"We will continue to strive for the best interests of everyone involved in rugby league, based on John’s philosophy.”
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said Chalk had revolutionised the administration of rugby league over many years.
“John enjoyed enormous success throughout his time with rugby league, forming many friendships over an administrative career spanning decades,” Greenberg said.
“He led with a focus for what was best, no matter whether you were a player, a participant or a fan, and I’m grateful that he was part of our game for so many years.”
Chalk was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016 “for significant service to rugby league as an administrator at state and national level, and to Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.”
A plumber by trade, Chalk's association with the game stretches back to 1955 as a ball-boy for Balmain.
He served as both a manager and selector for the Balmain Tigers Jersey Flegg team and other lower grade teams before joining the club’s board in 1985. Chalk later became a long-standing chairman of the Balmain Tigers.
He had the honour of becoming the first chairman of the Wests Tigers board when Balmain and Western Suburbs merged in 1999.
Chalk served on the NSWRL, ARL and NRL boards from 2001 and was both ARL and NSWRL Chairman between 2010 and 2012.
He has been President of the NSWRL since 2013 and was awarded Life Membership of the NSWRL in 2015.
Former Balmain player and coach Paul Broughton said: "He was a true Tiger who fought for the games integrity at every level. It is fitting that he was there to see his NSW Origin team win the series and the Wests Tigers revival. He did good, played strong".
A minute's silence was held in honour of Chalk at all NRL games.