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Mark Coyne: rugby league and insurance star

Insurance Risk & Professional Jun-Jul 2011

More than 15 years after the event, the first thing that people ask Mark Coyne about is that try.

Mark Coyne, rugby league and insurance star

It is not as if it was the only one he scored – in all he crossed the tryline another 65 times for St George, Queensland and Australia.

But then again, none of those were quite as spectacular as that try. 

With only 40 seconds remaining in the first game of the 1994 State of Origin series, New South Wales led 12-10 and looked certain to hang on for the victory.

Starting 60 metres from the tryline, the Queensland team manufactured an astonishing movement that has gone down in rugby league folklore. 

Featuring 11 passes sweeping from one side of the field to the other and back again, the passage of play was finished when Coyne accepted the final pass from Mal Meninga and dove for the corner. 

“I only played seven minutes of that game,” he says. “It was before the interchange rule was introduced – once you were off, you were off.

“It was all a bit of a blur for me, because I had only just gotten onto the field and then six minutes later I was running into the corner and putting the ball down.”

While Coyne scored many tries in his career that were technically more difficult, there are none that have had same level of impact – both for the man himself and for those who witnessed it. 

“I've been retired from football for 11 years now, but they still show the try in highlights packages every year around State of Origin time,” he says.

“Looking back, I'm pretty proud to have been part of it. I know that I got to finish it and get all the glory, but it was a great team move and I'm appreciative of the work the guys did to get the ball to me.

“It’s the one thing, whenever I meet someone new, that people want to talk about. It’s obviously still etched in people’s minds whether they support New South Wales or Queensland.”

Coyne names the try as one of three major highlights from a career that included 222 first-grade games for St George, 19 Origin games and nine tests for Australia.

You have to have a lot of respect for the people you work with – it’s critical, whether you are in a team or a business unit.

Queensland’s improbable whitewash victory in the 1995 Origin series was another. 

Decimated by the conflict between the Australian Rugby League and News Limited’s Super League, Queensland was forced to field one
of its most inexperienced line-ups. Coyne was named vice-captain.

“We came together in 1995 as a team of nobodies – Ben Ikin had played only two or three first-grade games, I think,” he says. “But we had a great coach in Paul Vautin, who really lifted our spirits. 

“No one gave us any chance of winning, so we didn’t really feel any pressure about losing.

“To win 3-0 was a remarkable achievement from a bunch of guys who hadn’t really played together before and, in terms of reputation, were not of the calibre of New South Wales.”

The third career highlight came the following season. As it did with Queensland, the Super League war had severely drained St George’s playing roster. Of the top 25 players in the squad, 11 had been recruited by the rival competition. Furthermore, the coach, Rod Reddy, had resigned in the off-season.

“We had eight players at the first training session after the Christmas break,” says Coyne, who was the club’s captain.

Remarkably, the team would pick themselves up and reach the grand final. Although they lost that match to Manly, Coyne still cherishes the memories from the whole season.

“It was an amazing experience when we beat North Sydney in the grand final qualifier,” he says, “especially when we reflected back on the start of the year.”

Coyne who is now the CEO of Coal Services, a company specialising in workers’ compensation insurance for the coal industry, has had an equally successful career outside of football.

However, there are a few key experiences from his sporting career he has been able to take across both professions – in particular captaining a team.

“You have to have a lot of respect for the people you work with – it’s critical, whether you are in a team or a business unit,” he says.

“You earn that respect by spending time with your staff and helping them through their problems.

“At the end of the day, you are there to help them become better workers, the same way you would help someone become a better player.”

There are of course other experiences from football he believes have served him well in his current career – an athlete’s work ethic, an ability to respond to unexpected adversity, and a willingness to challenge the ways things have always been done.

Although he has now been involved in the industry for the best part of the last decade, his move into insurance was far from predestined.

The first introduction into the industry came when he began some marketing work for a workers’ rehabilitation company towards the end of his sporting career.

In addition to this, he spent three years on the NRMA board, where he was involved in the demutualisation of NRMA Insurance in 2000.GIO’s Jason Hammond, now with QBE, saw enough in Coyne to offer him a job in the company’s workers’ compensation department.

“Jason took a big punt on me, because I had no workers’ comp experience other than the marketing work for the rehab company,” he says. “He gave me a role managing about 110 people in the Sydney workers’ comp claims business and I really loved it.

“Another big thing I was able to take from my sporting life to the claims business was an appreciation of what happens when you are injured and what you need to go through to get back on field or get back to work.”

Coyne quickly rose through the ranks at GIO, culminating with the role of Executive General Manager of Workers’ Compensation Claims, before he was offered a position with Employers Mutual, who then contracted him outto Coal Services.

Coyne has amassed an impressive list of achievements both on and off the sporting field, especially so early in his insurance career. But, whatever he achieves, there is still one thing for which he will always be remembered – that try.


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