'Played, coached, administered at highest level': IRL pays tribute to former chair John McDonald

Published by IntRL
14 Sep 2023

IRL Chair Troy Grant has paid tribute to the role of former chairman John McDonald in the international game after the passing of the long serving administrator and former Kangaroos representative.

McDonald, who was affectionally known as 'Cracker', was the inaugural chairman of the Rugby League International Federation, which was founded in 1998 to re-unite the international game after the Super League war in Australia.

He also represented Australia in 13 internationals and 15 tour matches and was Queensland's inaugural State of Origin coach in 1980 before becoming an influential administrator.

“John McDonald devoted his life to rugby league and played a significant role in rebuilding the international game after the Super League war," Grant said.

“He played, coached and administered at the highest level. On behalf of International Rugby League, I extend my condolences to John’s family, friends and the many people within the game who would be saddened by his loss.”

John McDonald (r) was inducted into Queensland Sport Hall of Fame

McDonald served as QRL chairman for 20 years and was the first Queenslander to become chairman of the ARL. He was also a member of the NRL partnership committee in 1998 after the game came together following the Super League war.

"John McDonald was one of the greatest leaders ever to grace the game of Rugby League. He represented Queensland as a player and made 13 Test appearances in the green and gold before coaching the Arthur Beetson led Queensland Maroons in the inaugural State of Origin match at Lang Park in 1980,” ARLC Chair Peter V’landys said.

“As a player he captained the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and in fact led Manly in one of the most famous grand finals of all time, the 1970 clash against the Rabbitohs in which John Sattler played with a broken jaw.

“He was also a world class athlete and at one time held the world record for the 440 yards.

“Few individuals have had an impact on the game of Rugby League in Australia to the magnitude of John ‘Cracker’ McDonald. He was also one of the games absolute gentlemen and he will be remembered for many decades to come for his immense contribution to grassroots and elite Rugby League.

“The Australian Rugby League Commission and everyone at the NRL and across the game are saddened by John’s passing and we send our thoughts and deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

A professional runner, McDonald went 'close to the world professional record for 440 yards'. He won a Gilgandra Gift and also won the 880 yards at the Bendigo Gift in 1966.

After joining Manly in 1969, McDonald made his first grade debut against Wests in round one that year.

A towering winger or centre, McDonald went on to play 62 games for the Sea Eagles, scoring 30 tries. He also kicked three goals and a field goal for 98 points from 1969 to 1971.

He captained Manly in the 23-12 loss to South Sydney in the 1970 NSWRL Grand Final.

On the representative front, McDonald ,made 10 appearances for Queensland from 1965-to-1968 and four for NSW during his stint with Manly.

He was Kangaroos vice-captain on the 1969 tour to New Zealand in a side which was led by John Sattler and featured the likes of Graham Langlands, Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy, Les Johns and Dennis Ward.

John McDonald was Queensland's first Origin coach

After coaching Toowoomba from 1973-to-78, McDonald coached Queensland from 1978-to-1980, including the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980.

“John was quite simply a remarkable individual who touched the lives of so many people around him,” QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher said.

“His achievements within the game are unrivalled. Not only did he play and coach at elite level, but he dedicated many years to rugby league administration, from the grassroots to the international game.

“The QRL expresses its deepest sympathy to his family, friends and all in the rugby league community, who are deeply saddened by his passing.”

After nearly 50 years of service to the game, McDonald was awarded Life Membership of the QRL in 2007.

McDonald attended school in Toowoomba, where a classmate was Ross Livermore, who went on to become QRL managing director.“The McDonald / Livermore partnership was arguably the most successful in Queensland sports administrative history,” said QRL History Committee chairman and former The Courier-Mail journalist Steve Ricketts.

“No other former international, in the history of the code, has made such an enormous administrative contribution.”

A devoted family man, McDonald and his wife Joan raised six children.

Joan has worked tirelessly in recent years as a volunteer with the Family of League Foundation, in which John was an 'Honouree' of the Foundation (formerly Men of League).

John Norman 'Cracker' McDonald AM

  • Served as QRL Chairman (1992-2012)
  • Awarded Life Membership of the QRL in 2007 after nearly 50 years of service to the game.
  • Inaugural NRL Executive Committee member (1998).
  • Australian Rugby League Chairman (1998-99). Was the first Queenslander to hold the position outright. Ron McAuliffe had previously occupied the chair in an interim capacity. McDonald succeeded his close friend Ken Arthurson in the post.
  • Australian Rugby League Deputy Director.
  • Former Rugby League International Federation Chairman
  • Long-serving Chairman, Toowoomba Rugby League
  • Queensland Sports Administrator of the Year (1998).

  • Queensland coach for the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980. With Arthur Beetson the skipper, Queensland beat New South Wales 20-10.
  • Prior to that, McDonald had coached Toowoomba, Queensland Country and Queensland, under the residential rules.
  • In 1978 he coached Queensland Country to a memorable win over City at Lang Park. Future Test winger Kerry Boustead was the 'find' of that Country side.
  • In 1979 he coached Country to the semi-finals of the prestigious national Amco Cup knock-out competition, beating Sydney clubs Newtown, Norths and Parramatta along the way.

  • 13 Tests for Australia (1966-1970). Toured Britain and France with the Kangaroos in 1967-68, and New Zealand with the Australian side in 1969.
  • 7 Tests v Great Britain; 4 Tests v New Zealand; 2 Tests v France. A goal kicking centre / winger. In one Test against the Kiwis, at Brisbane's Lang Park, he scored 18 points from two tries and six goals.
  • Captained Australia against Auckland at Carlaw Park in 1969.
  • Represented Queensland 10 times between 1965 and 1968. Nine matches against NSW and one against Great Britain.
  • Clubs: Valleys Toowoomba 1960-68, Manly-Warringah 1969-71. McDonald captained Manly at different stages, most notably in the 1970 grand final against South Sydney, the match in which Souths' skipper, John Sattler played with a broken jaw.
  • Represented Toowoomba in the prestigious Bulimba Cup inter-city competition, hitting the headlines as a 19-year-old in 1964.
  • Named centre in the Toowoomba and South West Team of the Century.

Other honours / achievements

  • Queensland Sports Hall of Fame Inductee (2016).
  • Former chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland.
  • Chairman Toowoomba Sports Ground Inc.
  • Chairman and director of Crushers Leagues Club, Brisbane.
  • Managing Director Cracker Print and Paper Pty Ltd.
  • The Queensland Cup Minor Premiers receive the John 'Cracker' McDonald Shield.
  • McDonald was a world class professional sprinter. He held a number of records, including a world record for the 440 yards.

Historical information provided by Steve Ricketts, QRL History Committee