Test lock, Ron Coote rejected a $70,000 contract offer from the Queensland Rugby League, believed to be the biggest deal in the code’s history in Australia.
The three year contract also carried with it the promise of a hotel management when Coote retired.
Major sponsors behind the offer were Carlton United Brewery, Dairy King Ice Cream, Queensland Newspapers and the Queensland Rugby League Club, based at Lang Park. Coote would write for The Courier-Mail and also make television appearances on Channel 7.
Then 27, Coote told the QRL he would remain in Sydney, but quit Souths to join either Manly-Warringah or Easts. (Ultimately he would sign with Easts where he would play seven seasons, winning two premierships).
Coote gave family reasons for his decision, with his children’s schooling paramount. He also had a brewery delivery truck contract, a contract he did not want to forgo.
“In addition, the idea of a pub did not appeal to me,” Coote said. (He would go on to become a McDonalds franchisee).
The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon said the acquisition of Coote would have been the greatest coup for Queensland since Jim Craig moved from Sydney to Ipswich in the 1920s.
QRL chairman, Ron McAuliffe admitted it was back to the drawing board for his ‘Ways and Means Committee”.
“If a player can find reasons to reject the greatest offer ever made, than we have to study other angles,” McAuliffe said.
The loss of Coote to Easts was another blow to 1971 Sydney premiers, Souths, who already had lost prop, John O’Neill and centre, Ray Branighan to Manly. It was the start of the end for the great Rabbitohs’ side which had won titles in 1967, 68, 70 and 71.
Former Wallaby rugby union prop, Dallas O’Neill was another Rabbitohs’ defector, returning to Queensland to play league with Brisbane Wests.
Footnote: Coote’s father, Jack played for Easts and was vice-captain of the winning reserve grade side in 1935.