Paul Green sat in the dressing shed at PointsBet Stadium with Sharks assistant coach Josh Hannay and other former team-mates for three hours after last Saturday night’s game as they swapped stories and talked about his future in the game.
On Thursday morning, Hannay’s partner Michelle turned up at Cronulla training in a distraught state to tell him that Green, who was among 30 guests invited to their small wedding ceremony later in the year, had passed away suddenly, aged 49.
Green had been in negotiations with the Dolphins to return to the NRL coaching ranks next season as an assistant to Wayne Bennett at the new franchise.
Like most who knew the 2015 Cowboys premiership mentor, Hannay was left reeling from the news but he wanted to pay tribute to the close mate he played with in North Queensland and later worked alongside as a coach.
“I think it is important that he is remembered in the right way by those who knew him well,” said Hannay, who was an assistant to Green for four seasons at the Cowboys and last year with the Queensland Origin team.
“He was just a wonderful coach and an incredible mentor to me. I went to the Cowboys thinking I knew what coaching was about, but I didn’t really know until I got to work alongside Greeny.
“He demanded a lot from everyone, but it was only because he demanded so much of himself and he expected that same level of commitment from everyone in the organisation - whether you were a player, coach or administrator.
“He set a high, high bench-mark and that could rub some people the wrong way but he knew what success looked like and he was extremely successful wherever he went as a player or as a coach, and he would never waiver in his demands of you as an individual.
“For me as a young coach it was just a real eye opener into what success took. He worked extremely hard and was extremely smart.
"He knew the game so well, but he was also an extremely loyal and caring coach, and that is the person I will remember.
“I think one of the misconceptions about Greeny is that he was a hard-arse as a person and as a coach that success was all that mattered, but he cared deeply for his players and for those around him.
“He was a wonderful mentor, a wonderful teacher, and I just want people to remember him for the loyal person that he was. He was astonishingly loyal to those that were in his circle.”
John Lang, who bought Green with him from Brisbane Easts when he took charge of Cronulla in 1994, said he was too emotional to talk about the former Test and Origin halfback, whose passing was mourned across the NRL.
Martin Lang tweeted: "This is so sad. 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."
Green's family released a statement as they grappled to comprehend their loss.
"Today we are devastated. We have lost a devoted husband, loving father and wonderful brother and son,” the statement said.
“We cannot find the words that would come close to expressing our feelings, 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."
Hannay said Green’s former team-mates and friends across the game would also be struggling to cope with Green's death, particularly those who had been with him at the Sharks Old Boys Day last Saturday night.
“I was out on the training field and my partner Michelle came to training to let me know,” Hannay said. “She got a call from close family friends and she was inconsolable, she couldn’t even tell me at first.
“I was in the sheds here having a beer with him after the game. There was me, him, Steve Price, Andrew Pierce and Craig Greenhill. We sat in the shed for about three hours and he was just his normal self. He was a lot of fun, telling a lot of stories.
“It is just shocking, he was talking a lot about the future and the plans he had. I can’t believe that five days later this has happened.
“He loved a good time and was the life of the party. I was fortunate to have some memorable nights with him, where he would grab the mic and starting singing ‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice, or rapping.
“He was really good company. There are going to be a lot of blokes today in shock and shattered that they won’t ever get to experience that again.”
After a two year absence from the NRL, Green had been poised to resume his coaching career with the Dolphins next season as Bennett believed he had "too much to offer" to remain on the sidelines.
“He made a great contribution and he had a lot of coaching in front of him," Bennett told Triple M on Thursday. “I offered him a position at the Dolphins in the last three weeks.
“I think he was keen to come, but we were just trying to work out a contract for him. That’s how much I thought of him.
“I thought if I could help him get back into coaching by coming to the Dolphins it would have made us a pretty formidable coaching team with him there. I saw it as a way back into the NRL for him if he wanted to do that."
Green had previously worked as an assistant to Bennett at the Broncos after finishing his playing career in Brisbane in 2004 following stints with the Sharks (1994-98), Cowboys (1999-2000), Roosters (2001-2002) and Eels (2003).
He played seven Origins for Queensland and two Tests for the Australian Super League team in 1997 - the same year he helped the Sharks to a grand final against the Broncos at Brisbane's QEII Stadium.
The 1995 Rothmans Medallist, who had also won the player-of-the-year award in the Brisbane competition two years earlier, began his head coaching career with Wynnum-Manly in 2011.
A season alongside Trent Robinson at Sydney Roosters in 2013 led to Green's appointment as Cowboys coach, and he took the club to an historic premiership win in 2015 and a grand final appearance two years later.
“I think it is a tough day for rugby league,” Bennett said. “Paul Green was such a big part of the game and he has been for over two or three decades. He had an influence and impact on so many people."
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys paid tribute to Green as a brilliant player and "one of the few to make a very successful transition into coaching".
“I had the pleasure of sitting on the NRL Competition Committee and found Paul to be a passionate, smart and witty individual. Our condolences go to his family and to his many friends," he said.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said: “We are deeply saddened by this loss, and on behalf of the game, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to Paul’s family, his friends, and those who have been inspired and mentored by him over the course of his long career”.