State of Origin - QLD v NSW: Game 1
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: A general view during game one of the 2019 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 05, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

John 'Cracker' McDonald, the inaugural coach of the Queensland Maroons and an icon of the sport, has passed away at the age of 79 in his home town of Toowoomba.

McDonald will forever be remembered as the coach who helped guide Queensland to victory in the very first State of Origin game in 1980.

In his playing days, he was an outside back who played in both the centres and wing. This included playing 66 games for the Manly Sea Eagles and 13 Tests for Australia, with the highlight being the 1970 Grand Final

He was also the Queensland Rugby League chairman from 1992 to 2012 and kept rugby league in Queensland strong during this period.

Queensland rugby league legends Wally Lewis and Chris Close have led the tributes for John McDonald.

"John was given the most challenging job of all in 1980 and his achievement in ensuring Queensland won that game was imperative to the reputation and future of State of Origin football," Wally Lewis told AAP.

"My dad used to talk about the exciting player he was. He told me that John would make people go to the footy just to watch him," Lewis said.

"He was a fantastic guy, always cracking jokes and lifting your mood," he added.

"If you ever wanted to get rid of someone that was a pest you would tell them to go and find someone that didn't like John McDonald. It would be a long time before you saw that person again."

Lewis' comments were echoed by Chris Close. Close was awarded the Man of the Match award in that 1980 State of Origin game.

"In 1980 Cracker got a group of people together under the captaincy of Arthur Beetson, remembering that eight of those players were 21 years old or younger," Close told AAP.

"He did a remarkable job to provide an environment to win that game. I had the pleasure of rooming with him in 1980. He was a very energetic person and an early riser. In those days I wasn't.

"Cracker used to make a point of getting up at sparrow's fart and grabbing The Courier Mail and then he would shake it, rattle it, fold it and make a racket just to get me out of bed."

"I am really saddened by his loss," Close added.

"He was a good man, a great mentor and a really decent human being. Since then I have got to know his family very well and they all have John's stamp on them from a character point of view."