The rugby league world has been left devastated by the sudden passing of former player and premiership-winning coach Paul Green.
The 49-year-old died at his Brisbane home on Thursday morning.
Green etched his name into rugby league folklore when he coached the Cowboys to a maiden NRL premiership in 2015 in incredible circumstances, with Johnathan Thurston booting the winning field goal.
Thurston flew to Sydney to commentate on Thursday night’s match between Penrith and Melbourne for Channel 9 but was reportedly too devastated by the news and returned home to Townsville.
“Our mate Johnathan Thurston was meant to be with us here,” host James Bracey said on the Channel 9 broadcast. “We send our condolences to JT, who’s hurting.”
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Legend Cameron Smith added: “I spent a couple of hours with JT this afternoon. He was absolutely devastated, as were many of the players and his teammates in that Cowboys outfit that were coached by Paul Green.”
Playmaker Michael Morgan was another who was instrumental in the memorable grand final win. He skipped across the field as the siren sounded, before a perfect offload saw winger Kyle Feldt score in the corner.
But at a packed house at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, no one would’ve been cheering louder than Green, with iconic vision capturing the coach celebrating wildly as Feldt scored.
Morgan, who announced his retirement from rugby league last year, shared an emotional tribute to the “more than influential” coach on Queensland radio.
“He was more than influential, he helped me carve out the career that I did have,” Morgan said on The Rush Hour with Leisel, Liam and Dobbo.
“It’s no coincidence once he took over that he gave me an opportunity at fullback, it’s a position I’d never played in before and taught me, and I said it throughout my career when he unfortunately moved on from the Cowboys, how much he taught me about the game.
“You grow up playing it, you think you know everything but he just opened up a whole new world to the actual knowledge of the game for me.
“Never been able to thank him enough.”
NRL IN MOURNING AFTER SHOCK DEATH OF LEGENDARY PLAYER, COACH PAUL GREEN
Green’s time with the Cowboys came to an end two years ago, after the talented squad failed to make their mark on the field.
But Morgan said that the premiership coach had made the club a “welcoming place” during his tenure with North Queensland.
“He had a huge standing and a lot of respect by people because Townsville is a big community, so his standing, he was very personable with people around town, he’d always give people the time of day,” he added.
“I think that’s what drew people to him when he was the coach here, that he wasn’t above the public or the fans or the members, he was part of the club like everyone else.
“He made it a welcoming place.
“The success that he had, or the club had under him, is no coincidence that he was the leader of it all.”
Courier Mail journalist Robert Craddock told Fox Sports News that Green’s passing had “really numbered the state” of Queensland.
“Paul passed away very suddenly this morning. There are rumours floating around about the cause of death but as of yet, it hasn’t been confirmed,” Craddock said.
“I think we must let due process take place rather than speculate.
“But what I can say is it has been an event that’s really numbered the state of Queensland. I’ve just walked into the studio and there’s people walking around the newsroom still glued to their phones.
“Paul was so well known up here for decades really, starting out as a Wynnum-Manly boy and then the East Tigers, and winning a Rothmans Medal.
“Going to Sydney and winning a Rothmans Medal with Cronulla, I don’t think anyone else has done that. Both states’ best player.
“It’s a real shock.”
“That was the gold stud of his career as a player or a coach,” Craddock added.
“It wasn’t just the Grand Final victory, it was the manner of it. The extra time field goal, the fact it was against the Broncos, the drama, the theatre, it was one of the greatest games ever played.
“He surfed that wave and I think that was his signature moment of his entire rugby league career … They were a very good team that was extra well coached.
“That made it extra special for them (beating the Broncos).
“The glow of that Grand Final just latest for months and years because it immortalized them.”
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was head coach of the team in 2013 while Green was assistant coach – a Premiership-winning season he said was ‘very special’. Robinson told Fox Sports he was ‘deeply saddened’.
“Like everyone who knew Paul, I’ve been deeply saddened to hear of his passing,” Robinson said.
“We had a very special year together in 2013. I loved working with Paul for his incredible football mind, passion and humour. He was integral to what we achieved.
“As good a person as he was a coach, I enjoyed the time Greeny and I had as mates coaching against each other and sharing our views on the game in the years that followed.
“Paul’s legacy will be long-lasting, and the thoughts of everyone at the Sydney Roosters are with his wife Amanda and their children Emerson and Jed.”
Cowboys halfback Chad Townsend, who was not part of that famous win, was one of the first players from the club to share a tribute following the sudden news.
“RIP Paul Green,” Townsend wrote on Twitter.
“Thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”
Green made his NSWRL debut with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in 1994, before moving to the Cowboys five years later.
Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has taken to social media to share his thoughts following the passing of a “Cronulla shark great”.
“Such a sad day for rugby league today,” Mulitalo wrote.
“Rest in Peace to the great man and former Cronulla shark great Paul Green.
Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.”
In reacting to the news, former Melbourne Storm and Maroons hooker Cameron Smith said he had been left stunned.
“A very sad part of the day,” Smith said, reacting to the news alongside Denan Kemp, who was coached by Green in the early stages of his rugby league career.
“It’s certainly rocked myself and Kempy in the studio and everyone in the rugby league world.
“It’s a sad day for everyone involved in the rugby league family and community. We send our best wishes and condolences out to the entire Green family.
“I was fortunate enough, he was my kicking and catching coach when I was coming through at the Broncos and he was also my coach when I was at Wynnum.
“I had a small amount to do with him but in the time I did, it was actually really interesting the year I was at Wynnum I ended up signing with another club to leave but we had a really tough start to the season. Greeny managed to turn the Wynnum Seagulls around and we won the premiership that year.
“He’s a fighter. It’s a very sad day to see Greeny go like that.”
Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landys has paid tribute to the “smart and witty” premiership winning coach.
“Paul was a brilliant player, and then became one of the few to make a very successful transition into coaching,” V’Landys said.
“As a player, he represented Cronulla Sharks, North Queensland Cowboys, Sydney Roosters, Parramatta Eels and Brisbane Broncos, and throughout his career had a reputation as a halfback who was as tough as he was skilful.
“Paul was rewarded with the Rothmans Medal in 21995.
“As a coach he led the North Queensland Cowboys to one of the most famous Grand Final victories of all time – against Brisbane Broncos in 2015.
“He represented Queensland and Australia as a player, and only last year coached the Maroons in the State of Origin series.
“I had the pleasure of sitting on the NRL Competition Committee and found Paul to be passionate, smart and witty individual. Our condolences go to his family and to his many friends.”
Meanwhile, Wests Tigers playmaker Jackson Hastings has penned a heartfelt tribute to Green after the premiership coach’s tragic passing.
“Can’t believe the Paul Green news this morning,” he wrote on Twitter. Achieved it all as a player and coach, still had so much to give, taken way too soon.
“Thoughts and prayers with family and friends. Makes you realize to take nothing for granted. RIP.”
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Queensland leader of the Opposition David Crisafulli shared a touching tribute to the Queenslander on Thursday afternoon.
“Paul Green was Maroon through and through,” Crisafulli wrote.
“He was a wonderful player but his greatest achievement came as a coach when he guided the Cowboys to a maiden Premiership in 2015.
“I’m deeply shocked to learn of his death & send my condolences to his family, friends & the NRL community.”