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Tributes flow as first Maroons coach John McDonald dies

Queensland rugby league icon and inaugural Maroons State of Origin coach John McDonald has died after a wonderful career as a player, coach and administrator.

McDonald, universally and affectionately known as 'Cracker', was 79 when he passed away yesterday in his home town Toowoomba.

His achievements were many but guiding Queensland to a 20-10 win over NSW as coach in the first State of Origin game in 1980 has been hailed by Maroons greats Wally Lewis and Chris Close as crucial.

"John was given the most challenging job of all in 1980 and his achievement in ensuring Queensland won that game was imperative to the reputation and future of State of Origin football," Lewis told AAP.

A devastating centre and winger, McDonald played 13 Tests for Australia and made 10 interstate appearances for Queensland. He played in the 1970 grand final for Manly after lighting up rugby league fields in his home state.

"My dad used to talk about the exciting player he was. He told me that John would make people go to the footy just to watch him," Lewis said.

As Queensland Rugby League (QRL) chairman from 1992 to 2012, McDonald forged a powerhouse partnership with late QRL managing director Ross Livermore. The duo kept Queensland league strong and ensured the state was not done over by NSW at the administrative level.

"John was quite simply a remarkable individual who touched the lives of so many people around him," QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher said.

"His achievements within the game are unrivalled."

Close was man of the match for the Maroons in 1980.

"In 1980 Cracker got a group of people together under the captaincy of Arthur Beetson, remembering that eight of those players were 21 years old or younger," Close told AAP.

"He did a remarkable job to provide an environment to win that game.

"I had the pleasure of rooming with him in 1980. He was a very energetic person and an early riser. In those days I wasn't.

"Cracker used to make a point of getting up at sparrow's fart and grabbing The Courier Mail and then he would shake it, rattle it, fold it and make a racket just to get me out of bed."

Close said McDonald has "a nice place to spend in my heart".

"I am really saddened by his loss," Close said.

"He was a good man, a great mentor and a really decent human being. Since then I have got to know his family very well and they all have John's stamp on them from a character point of view."

Lewis said it was "a privilege" to be coached by McDonald, a person who he said was one of a kind.

"He was a fantastic guy, always cracking jokes and lifting your mood," he said.

"If you ever wanted to get rid of someone that was a pest you would tell them to go and find someone that didn't like John McDonald. It would be a long time before you saw that person again."

A devoted family man, McDonald and his wife Joan raised six children.

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