John McDonald, Rugby Legend and Inaugural Maroons Coach, Passes Away at 79

Rugby Legend and Inaugural Maroons Coach John McDonald Passes Away at 79
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Toowoomba Regional Sports Hall of Fame

Former Manly captain and inaugural Queensland State of Origin coach John McDonald has passed away at the age of 79.



John McDonald, a giant of the game

John McDonald
Photo Credit: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

McDonald played 62 games for Manly between 1969 and 1971 after joining the club from Toowoomba. The imposing centre or winger scored 30 tries during his career with the Sea Eagles and captained the team that lost 23-12 to South Sydney in the 1970 Grand Final.


In addition to Manly, McDonald represented Queensland on 10 occasions between 1965 and 1968. Internationally, McDonald played 13 Tests for Australia and toured with the Kangaroos as vice-captain in 1969.

Coach, administrator, visionary

John McDonald
Photo Credit: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

While Mcdonald’s on-field exploits were remarkable, his off-field contributions to the game were even greater. After coaching at Toowoomba, McDonald took charge of Queensland’s inaugural State of Origin team in 1980. Queensland won that historic match 20-10, laying the foundations for an Origin dynasty. According to current Australia coach Mal Meninga, who played under McDonald, the coach’s words still inspire Maroons camps today.

Besides coaching, McDonald’s contribution as an administrator was enormous. He served as QRL chairman for 20 years and was the first Queenslander to become ARL chairman. In the 1990s he was part of the partnership that reunited the game after the Super League war.

John McDonald grew up playing rugby league in Toowoomba alongside Ross Livermore, who went on to become a long-time QRL colleague. Queensland Sport inducted McDonald into its Hall of Fame in 2016.


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Tributes have poured in from across Australian rugby league following McDonald’s passing. He is remembered as a gentleman and a great leader who impacted the game at every stage of his career. McDonald leaves a legacy as one of the most influential figures in Manly and Queensland, both on and off the field.

Published 17 September 2023