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Graham Murray watches on - NRL North Qld v Souths at Townsville, Saturday April 13th 2002. Photographed on Kodak Digital by Colin Whelan © Action Photographics

Mention the name of the late NSW State of Origin coach Graham Murray and you provoke an instant response from Jillaroos players.

"You just gave me goose bumps," said fullback Sam Bremner. "I owe him so much."

Prop Steph Hancock puts her hand to her lips.

"I'm going to get emotional here, I'm sorry. Muzza is still such a strong presence in this team. Honestly, I just love the bloke."

Co-captain Renae Kunst has tears starting to well up in her eyes.

"He took our game to the next level. He was that well-known quality coach and got behind the female game and instilled some principles," Kunst said.

In January 2010, Murray was appointed Jillaroos coach. It immediately lifted the profile of women's rugby league at home because of his coaching pedigree and standing in the game. 

He played nearly 100 first-grade games with Parramatta and South Sydney before excelling as a coach. He took the Illawarra Steelers to their first finals appearance in 1992; in 2000 he guided the Sydney Roosters to their first grand final since 1975; and he took the Cowboys to their first grand final in 2005.

But the 58-year-old saw potential in the women's game before many others did, and wanted to be a part of it. He prepared the Jillaroos well for the 2013 World Cup but illness prevented him from touring to Britain with them.

They won the trophy in July 2013, beating New Zealand in the final, and almost immediately picked up the phone to Australia to ring Murray.

"It was something like 2am at home and we knew he hadn't been very well but we called him anyway. We wanted him to share it with us because he was such a part of it," Kunst said. "He was just so, so proud."

Murray died from a heart attack two weeks later.

Eight members of this year's World Cup squad were coached by Murray in the lead-up to the 2013 tournament.

"First of all, he was the most genuine gentleman I have ever met in my life," Hancock said. "Obviously my dad (former Test forward Rohan Hancock) is up there, but Muzza is alongside him.

"He said to us from the outset: 'I've got three rules in this team. Always be on time. Always perform with pride. Always say 'please' and 'thank you' wherever we are.' I'll always remember him sitting us down and saying 'If you stick to these rules, we won't have any problems'."

Bremner gives the largest dose of credit to Murray for instilling a strong culture in the Jillaroos.

"I was fortunate to come into the team when times were changing a bit so I got to experience the culture that Graham created,'' she said.

''I make it my role – because I know how much he means to the eight of us that had something to do with him – to pass it onto the younger team members, who never got the chance to meet him."

"The biggest thing for me was his belief in our ability. For me, I was playing in a competition in rural NSW and I didn't know he was there. He came down to me after the game and said 'I'd love for you to be in the Australian squad.''

"I'd only been playing for seven months so I said 'I'm so sorry. I don't know the game enough'. I appreciated him talking to me but I was only 20 years old. I said no. He came to watch me play again and approached me a second time saying 'Why don't you want to play in the Australian team?' And I told him it was the fear of failure.

"He said 'I believe in you and if you come into my squad, you'll believe in yourself'. That's where it all started. He believed in me so I just went for it. I want to pass on that belief to our younger squad members now."

Kunst said the Jillaroos still followed Murray's three rules.

"His three pillars, as I call them. It's something that has stayed with this team since Graham Murray took hold of us," she said. 

"His rules cover everything you want in a team from humility, respect, pride and passion. I'll be forever grateful to that man for the opportunities he gave us. He taught us that no matter where you come from we were there to represent Australia and give respect to that jersey.

"He then got into our skills and game development, improved those as well. It was a special moment when we won that World Cup. To this day, Muzza is entrenched in our hearts. We pass on his belief to our new girls."

Hancock said no-one could deny the impact Murray had on the Jillaroos.

"No one really gave two hoots about the Australian women's rugby league team. But to find out that Graham Murray was going to be our coach, for me I thought: 'Why is a guy of his standing coming to coach us?'

"Then he walks in the room and tells us he believes in us and we're going to do great things together. He would sit down with each individual and listen and talk to them. He dedicated himself to each of us.

"He would pick something about their game and talk about it with them for five minutes. It made such a difference. It not only made you a better player, it made me a better person.

"He left such a legacy for all of us… for this team. We are so grateful we were coached by the legend that is Graham Murray."

This article first appeared on

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