Past and present players reflect on the lasting impact Graham Murray had on the Leeds Rhinos club. Peter Smith reports.
LEEDS RHINOS were in mourning today following the death of the last man to coach the club to Challenge Cup final success.
Graham Murray – who was in charge when Rhinos crushed London Broncos 52-16 at Wembley 14 years ago – died yesterday following a heart attack, aged 58.
Tributes have been paid to Murray from around the rugby league world.
Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield played under Murray and described his death as a “sad loss to the game, both in Leeds and Australia”.
He said: “He contributed so much to where Leeds are now and he coached at the highest level in Australia as well.
“I am sure the whole of Leeds will remember the 1999 victory at Wembley and the success he started off.”
Now Rhinos’ youth boss, Barrie McDermott scored a crucial try in the 1999 Wembley final – after being sent off in the fourth round win over Wigan Warriors. He said Murray’s legacy is still being felt at Headingley Carnegie.
“If you look back over the successful period we’ve had at Leeds, you could argue the beginning was 1998-99 when he got us to the first Grand Final and then the Challenge Cup win,” McDermott said.
“He put a plan in place and he made the players believe in what they could achieve. He was a great coach to play for and he filled everybody with confidence. He was a master at creating team spirit and he worked very hard at harmony in the squad. Everyone you speak to who was coached by him says how enjoyable it was playing for him.”
Murray attended a reunion of the Wembley winning team four years ago and McDermott added: “I asked him to speak to our young players.
“He said four or five things that I use when I am dealing with the juniors now, so he still has an influence on the way I do things.
“On the field he wanted us to be tough and aggressive, but he was very keen on everyone behaving in the right manner off it – being polite, saying please and thank you and that sort of thing.”
Current Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington appointed Murray.
“It’s devastating and so sad to have lost Graham,” Hetherington said.
“He will be fondly remembered by all our fans, players and staff who knew him from his time with us.
“He was very popular and so professional in everything he did. He was an outstanding coach and mentor and he knew about all aspects of rugby league. The game has lost a great servant and personality and our thoughts are with his wife Amanda and his daughter Kara.”
Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell was a member of Leeds’ 1999 Wembley team.
He described the news as “devastating”, adding: “He coached me at Balmain as well in reserve grade, so I knew him pretty well. I am gutted that such a great man has passed away. I thought he was incredible as a coach and as a man as well. Wherever he went you could see players enjoyed his personality and the way he dealt with things, not just about the game, but about life.
“The way he pulled people together was very special and he took it wherever he went.”
Powell said Murray was a huge influence on him as a player and on the way he has approached his coaching career.
“As a player, he was a pleasure to be around and to work with,” he recalled. “I had a fair few run-ins with him because he had a cranky edge to him, but he got the best out of people. As a coach, what I took from him was how strong and principled he was and how good he was at motivating people.
“My wife talks about how he knew everybody’s first name, he was very special in that regard.
“I have never met anybody since who could motivate a a club and a group of players the way he could.”
Another player to go on from winning the Cup in 1999 to coaching in Super League is Bradford Bulls boss Francis Cummins: “It’s so sad. It is a big loss to the game and as a person as well.”
Cummins revealed that many of his traits as a coach came from his time playing under Murray: “He is still influencing me now.
“There are things I say and I think ‘where did that comes from’? and it was from Graham Murray – that happens all the time.”
Jamie Jones-Buchanan added: “Graham Murray was a great coach who in many ways paved the way for much of the success that came about in the last decade.
“I know he was one of the fans’ favourites in the south stand and will certainly be remembered by lads like me.
“He will be sadly missed and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Former Castleford coach Ian Millward was one of Murray’s closest friends: “Every place he went to he improved and he made everyone feel part of it. It is a sad time for rugby league.”
Ironically, Rhinos’ first game since Murray’s death will be away to their 1999 Cup final victims London Broncos, on Thursday night.
Leeds players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect and have asked for a minute’s silence before the game.