In memory of
JOHN PYE, The Associated Press
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) â€” Artie Beetson was a big presence on and off the field, first as the first indigenous Australian to captain a national team and then as one of the most compelling influences on the success of the State of Origin concept in rugby league.
Beetson died Thursday of a suspected heart attack while riding a bicycle near his home on the Gold Coast. He was 66.
After growing up in country Queensland, Beetson went to Sydney in 1966 to pursue his professional career with Balmain in the old New South Wales Rugby League competition, a move which meant he had to play against his home state to have a representative career.
He moved to Easts and helped the club win back-to-back premierships in 1974 and 1975 in Australia's top league before a stint at Parramatta and finishing off his career at Redcliffe, Queensland state.
Beetson played 29 tests for Australia in the 1960s and 70s and was captain in two. He played 18 times for New South Wales before he was recalled to play against the Blues.
In a bid to revive a flagging interstate series which New South Wales dominated with the aid of Queenslanders who'd moved to Sydney clubs, rugby league officials decided on an experiment in 1980 to select teams based on where players first played a senior game rather than where they were based.
Enter Beetson. Well past his prime and peak fitness, he led Queensland from the front row to an upset victory that entrenched the annual series as one of the major grudge matches not only in rugby league but in Australian sport.
Johnathan Thurston, the current Queensland and Australia halfback, said Beetson "was an inspiration to all indigenous rugby league players, including myself, and will always be remembered as one of the greats of the game."
Beetson had such a profile that Queensland premier Anna Bligh broke the news of Beetson's death in state parliament, saying "Queensland has lost one of its legends and one of its favorite sons."
"He was a knockabout bloke ... his loss will be felt from many."
Australian federal sports minister Mark Arbib paid tribute to Beetson as a role model to generations of indigenous Australians and one of his own childhood heroes.
"In 2004 he was recognized officially as a legend of the game by being named as the seventh post-war Immortal by the NRL," Arbib said. "He was a true legend of the game and a fantastic bloke and his sudden passing is a huge loss for Australia."
National Rugby League chief executive David Gallop said Beetson was one of the great advertisements for the game.
"Arthur was an imposing figure in rugby league. He was an Immortal, he was an indigenous leader not only in rugby league but in Australian sport," he said. "He was a role model, he was a champion player, he will be sorely missed.
"When you think of the creation of Origin you think of Arthur running out that night at Lang Park and being a leader on the field, which was what he was in every team he played for."
Beetson was cycling near his home on the Gold Coast on Thursday morning when witnesses said he suffered severe chest pains. Ambulance officers treated him at the scene.
Queensland premier Anna Bligh broke the news of Beetson's death in state parliament, saying "Queensland has lost one of its legends and one of its favorite sons."
Beetson was the first indigenous Australian to captain a national team and played 29 tests for Australia. He went on to coach Queensland to series wins in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1989. He was named in the front row of Australia's Team of the Century.
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