THE Former Origin Greats have been left heart-broken by the tragic death of the original FOG – inaugural Queensland State of Origin captain Arthur Beetson.
“Big Artie”, as he was known to everyone, passed away suddenly this morning from a heart attack on the Gold Coast. He was 66.
FOGS Executive Chairman Gene Miles said the news has come as a savage shock to the organisation, its members and supporters.
“Obviously everyone knows what a giant of the game Arthur was both as a player and a coach, and his integral role in the birth of State of Origin,” Gene said.
“It was Arthur’s revered presence that helped give the Origin concept credibility right from the word go in 1980, and obviously he was a massive part of Queensland’s success both in that first year, and in the years since.
“But he impact on the game went well beyond his playing and coaching days. He was a tireless worker and passionate supporter of the FOGS, especially with our Indigenous Employment and Careers Expos and our education program named in his honour.
“The ARTIE program is about Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education, and Arthur was passionate about making better lives for all Queenslanders, but particularly those in Indigenous communities that need a bit of help.”
Today was supposed to be a day of celebration for the ARTIE program, with a fun day at White Water World on the Gold Coast to congratulate 400 students who participated in the program, as well as their tutors and teachers.
The guest of honour was to be Arthur, who was scheduled to arrive at 10am to meet with the students and have his photograph taken with them to help celebrate their achievements in the program named in his honour.
Instead, just a few minutes before Arthur was expected through the gates, Gene received the phone call with the regrettable news that the FOGS had lost their Ambassador, and Queensland one of its finest servants.
“Rugby league has lost one of its greatest, and we Queenslanders have not only lost a champion person, but also a wonderful character and a genuine sporting hero for many generations of Queenslanders,” Gene said.
“It has come as a massive shock for everyone. It was only a matter of weeks ago that Arthur was here encouraging young Indigenous kids to make a better life for themselves. We have lost a genuine champion, and he will be greatly missed.”
The 66-year-old was Queensland’s first State of Origin captain in 1980, and coached the Maroons to series wins from 1982, 83, 84 and 89.
In February 2008, Arthur was named in a Centenary of Rugby League list of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players.
Arthur was also named in the front-row in Australian rugby league’s Team of the Century.
The sad news travelled quickly across the state and the nation, sparking the flow of heartfelt tributes. North Queensland Cowboys captain and Maroons State of Origin star Johnathan Thurston was one of many NRL stars quick to pay tribute to Beetson.
“Artie was an inspiration to all Indigenous rugby league players, including myself, and will always be remembered as one of the greats of the game,” Thurston said in a statement.
“All Queensland State of Origin players are aware of the impact he had at the start of Origin as the Maroons’ first captain and again later on when he coached the Maroons.
“Very few people have done as much for Queensland rugby league as he has.
“Artie was a true Queensland icon.
“I’m very sad to hear he has passed away and my thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh broke the news of Beetson’s death in parliament, saying Queensland had lost one of its legends. “He was a knockabout bloke from country Queensland, he loved his leagues, he loved his Queensland and his loss will be felt from many,” Ms Bligh told parliament.