Rugby league great Gibson farewelled

Some of the hardest men in rugby league choked back tears, and some of the biggest names found it was standing room only, when over 1,000 people gathered to farewell the game's greatest coach, Jack Gibson.

Old warriors like Arthur Beetson, who captained Gibson's Eastern Suburbs team to two premierships in the 1970s, were happy to stand out in the foyer of the packed church in Cronulla where Gibson had lived, coached and prayed.

So was Ricky Stuart, the Australian and Cronulla coach.

Current Easts players like Braith Anasta and Anthony Minichiello busied themselves ferrying in chairs, then stood out the back, too.

At the end they helped form a guard of honour with their coach Brad Fittler and teammates including Willie Mason and Craig Fitzgibbon.

Mourners included NRL boss David Gallop, former ARL chief John Quayle, Broncos and former Australian coach Wayne Bennett, Olympic great Dawn Fraser, broadcaster and former Wallabies coach Alan Jones, and players from the Parramatta side Gibson coached to three titles in the early 1980s, including Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny.

Gibson, who died aged 79 last Friday hours before Australia downed New Zealand in the centenary Test, was named coach of the century last month.

But he was remembered not only for his achievements on the field, but his care for players off it.

"His priority was to make sure every player was happy in his life off the field," Quayle told mourners, recounting how when he came to Easts from the NSW country in the 1960s, Gibson moved him from an old boarding house to a beautiful home in Clovelly inside a week.

Quayle also remembered how Gibson took him for a meal of spaghetti following his first training session, riding in a white Cadillac convertible, but the second week it was in a Holden.

When he asked what happened to the Cadillac, he was told: "Jack lost it in a card game."

"Jack's influence has reached every corner of the rugby league world, and beyond," Quayle said.

"You have been called many things but I think the word 'legend' should sit alongside your name now.

"I guess God said last Friday night: 'The time is right, you've done your job.'"

Gibson's local priest said he had no doubt that when Gibson reached the gates of heaven, God would say to him: "Done good, played strong."

Gibson's daughter Susan said her father was so tough he used to use Baygon surface spray as a personal insecticide.

She recalled how he was a keen fisherman who taught his daughters how to "fish" with a wallet, tying it to a piece of fishing line and hiding in the bushes until a passing motorist stopped to pick it from the roadside.

One motorist caught by the trick was so "ropable" he tore the wallet off the line, and her father had to pursue him and retrieve the wallet with the help of a "swift punch".

Gibson, who suffered from dementia in his final years, had five objects placed on his coffin by his five surviving children, including his baptism cowl, rosary beads, a family photo and his bush hat.

The last object was his green-and-gold centenary blazer.

Sadly, the man anointed the game's greatest coach died without knowing its significance.