John McDonald AM (24 April 1944 – 13 September 2023) was more than just an Australian rugby league footballer. He was a coach, an administrator, and a symbol of rugby’s enduring significance in Australian sports culture. A tall three-quarter back, McDonald had a career that spanned roles, geographies, and eras, proving his versatility both on and off the field.

Early Career

Born on April 24, 1944, McDonald started his club football career in Toowoomba, a city located in Queensland, Australia. His talent soon got him noticed, and he represented Queensland ten times. McDonald’s skills didn’t stop at the state level; he also gained selection for the Australian test team, a testament to his prowess and potential in the sport.

New Horizons in New South Wales

In 1969, McDonald decided to expand his horizons and moved south to play in the New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership with the Manly-Warringah club. The move proved to be fruitful. After playing for his adopted state, he toured New Zealand as the Australian vice-captain. McDonald would later captain Manly from the flank in the club’s grand final loss to Souths in the 1970 NSWRFL season.

Return to Queensland and Coaching Career

After three seasons with the Sea Eagles, McDonald returned to his roots in Queensland. He took up the dual role of captain-coach for Toowoomba, and upon his retirement from playing, he was elected president of the club.

But his impact on Queensland rugby was far from over. In the late 1970s, McDonald transitioned into coaching and became the coach of Queensland. His pinnacle achievement came in 1980 when he coached the Maroons’ first State of Origin team.

Administrator and Leadership Roles

McDonald’s influence in rugby wasn’t confined to the field or the coaching box. By the end of the 1980s, he had ascended to the position of President of the Queensland Rugby League (QRL). In 1998, he joined the National Rugby League Executive Committee and was named Chairman of both the QRL and Australian Rugby League Board of Directors. In the same year, he was honored as the “Sport Administrator of the Year” at the Queensland Sport Awards.

Accolades and Honors

Over the years, McDonald received numerous accolades that underlined his contributions to the sport. In 2008, during rugby league’s centenary year in Australia, he was named at the center in the Toowoomba and South West Team of the Century.


The legacy of John McDonald extends beyond the rugby field. His son, Geoff McDonald, is currently serving as the Mayor of the Toowoomba Region, showing that the family’s commitment to community and leadership is not restricted to sports alone.

Conclusion and Legacy

John McDonald died on 13 September 2023, at the age of 79. His life was a testament to the versatility and depth of talent that can be found in the realm of sports. From his early days in Toowoomba to his time in New South Wales, from his coaching stints to his administrative roles, McDonald left an indelible mark on Australian rugby league.

He was not just a player, but a mentor, a leader, and a visionary who saw the game from multiple angles: as a sport, a community, and a tradition. His name will long be remembered not just in the annals of the Queensland Rugby League or the Australian Rugby League Board of Directors but in the hearts of all those who love the sport.

Through his many roles—whether it was as a player, coach, or administrator—John McDonald enriched the world of rugby league, leaving behind a legacy that will inspire generations to come.