NRL icon Paul Green had endured arguably the toughest year of his life before his tragic death, which has rocked the rugby league community.
The 49-year-old was found dead at his Brisbane home on Thursday morning, the day after his son’s ninth birthday.
The Courier Mailreports Green had called his friend and longtime manager George Mimis at 4.30pm on Wednesday to speak about his son’s birthday celebrations. The report said Green’s wife Amanda and close friends were not aware he may have been struggling.
Green’s death comes 11 months after stood down as head coach of the Maroons following Queensland’s drubbing in last year’s State of Origin series, which included a 50-6 win for the Blues.
Green filled the role for just a year, but still called it “every Queenslander’s dream”.
Last February he sold his family home in Townsville for $1.85 million, and admitted it was difficult to let go of the place where his two kids, Jed and Emerson, had grown up.
“It is pretty tough to move and tough on the family,” he said at the time.
Green had every intention of returning to the NRL and had held talks with Wayne Bennett about joining the Dolphins.
After all, despite his loss with the Maroons, this was the man who had taken the North Queensland Cowboys to their first ever Grand Final win in 2015.
Former Cowboys chairman Laurence Lancini told News Corp that Green seemed fine three days ago when he spoke to him to say they should catch up for a beer soon.
But Lancini did say that “the last few years had been tough on” Green.
“Greeny mentioned he was keen to coach again and had some options and I asked Greeny if he really wanted to go back into it again,” Lancini said.
“I said to Paul, the last club you coached, you took the Cowboys to the premiership and you took us to two grand finals. Just leave coaching behind and do something else.
“But Greeny still had that real drive. He wanted to coach again.
“Greeny has come from a position where he coached a club to a premiership and a second grand final. He has coached State of Origin. He has coached at the highest levels and I think Greeny was a bit lost and confused about where his life needed to be without coaching.
“The thing about Greeny is he was a high achiever and high achievers always want to be achieving something.
“The last few years have been a bit tough on him because he hasn’t been coaching in the NRL.
“I said to Greeny, just take your time and the right opportunity will come along.”
Despite the less than perfect year, Green looked delighted as he chatted with journalists while holding a reunion with former Cronulla Sharks players just this weekend.
The talented halfback played 95 times for the Sharks, as well as turning out for the Cowboys, Roosters, Eels and Broncos.
The rugby league world was quick to pay tribute to Green and several former players continued to honour him on Thursday night.
Johnathan Thurston sealed the Cowboys’ epic Grand Final in 2015 with a field goal.
Thurston had flown down to Sydney to commentate on Thursday night’s game between Penrith and the Melbourne Storm for Channel 9 but was too devastated by the news and flew straight back to Townsville.
“Our mate Johnathan Thurston was meant to be with us here,” host James Bracey said on the Channel 9 broadcast.
“We send our condolences to JT, who’s hurting.”
League legend Cameron Smith added: “I spent a couple of hours with JT this afternoon. He was absolutely devastated, as were many of the players and his teammates in that Cowboys outfit that were coached by Paul Green.
“We just want to send our best wishes to all those players and particularly our mate JT. He’s flying home right now actually to be with his family.
“Mate, we feel for you and as the entire rugby league community do for everyone that was involved with Paul Green and his family, we wish you all the very best.”
Corey Parker, who played with Green at the Brisbane Broncos in 2004, held back tears as he reflected on the impact Green had on him.
“It’s a truly sad day for rugby league and everyone in the rugby league community who have in some way been touched by Paul Green and what he was able to do,” Parker said on Fox League.
“He was a lot of things to many people.
“To me personally, Greeny was a teammate, he was a coach, and more importantly he was a terrific and wonderful friend. My deepest condolences go to Amanda, (children) Emerson and Jed, and their extended family.”
Ex-NRL star Denan Kemp said it hit close to home for him as he was coached by Green.
“I was fortunate enough, he was my kicking and catching coach when I was coming through at the Broncos and he was also my coach when I was at Wynnum,” he told SEN.
“I had a small amount to do with him but in the time I did, it was actually really interesting the year I was at Wynnum I ended up signing with another club to leave but we had a really tough start to the season. Greeny managed to turn the Wynnum Seagulls around and we won the premiership that year.
“He’s a fighter. It’s a very sad day to see Greeny go like that.”
Broadcaster Ray Hadley was shocked by the news, saying: “I’m just absolutely stunned, Paul Green has passed away tragically. Just terrible, absolutely terrible.”
Former teammate Martin Lang also paid tribute.
“This is so sad,” he tweeted. “Paul was a close mate, we moved to Sydney together in 1993….the beginning of an outstanding NRL playing/coaching career. My sincere condolences to Paul’s wife, children and his dear mum and dad. Rest In Peace mate.”
Current North Queensland halfback Chad Townsend posted on Twitter: “RIP Paul Green. Thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”
“Today we are devastated,” Green’s family said in a statement on Thursday morning.
“We have lost a devoted husband, loving father and wonderful brother and son. We cannot find the words that would come close to expressing our feeling, however we would like to extend our thanks to those who have reached out to us with their love and support.
“Paul was loved by so many and we know that this news will generate immense interest, however at this time we ask for privacy.
“Our family is still trying to understand this tragedy and we request space and time as we come to terms with this loss. Thank you.”
A Queensland police spokeswoman said: “Police were called to a Wynnum residence just after 10am this morning after a 49-year-old was located unresponsive.
“He was declared deceased by emergency crews a short time later. There are no suspicious circumstances. A report will be prepared for the coroner.”