His neighbour, Kevin Phillips, was at home when he saw 66-year-old Beetson fall from his bicycle at Paradise Point. He said he immediately called an ambulance and rushed outside to help as paramedics instructed him by phone how to perform CPR.

He said Beetson was breathing shallowly at first but soon stopped and paramedics, who arrived within minutes, could do nothing to save him.

“He’s a local hero, everybody around here knows him,” Phillips said. “I used to see him all the time at the local coffee shop.”

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh broke the news of Beetson’s death in parliament, saying Queensland had lost one of its legends.

“He was a knockabout bloke from country Queensland, he loved his league, he loved his Queensland and his loss will be felt from many,” Ms Bligh said.

Beetson played 28 Tests for Australia and was captain in two. He was Queensland’s first State of Origin captain in 1980, and went on to coach the Maroons to series wins in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1989. He played 235 club games between 1963-81 in the NSWRL and QRL. In Sydney he played for Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta. He also had a stint in 1968 with Hull Kingston Rovers in the UK. He was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003.

The news of Beetson’s death hit the rugby league community hard, including long-serving staff at the Sydney Roosters.

Beetson played 131 games for the foundation club then known as Eastern Suburbs between 1971 and 1978, captaining them to premierships in 1974 and 1975 before continuing his association with them as a coach and later a recruitment manager on and off until 2009.

Roosters boss Steve Noyce said staff at the club were shattered.

“A lot of the staff who have worked here a long time were crying in the office, they have great memories and fond moments of Arthur both on and off the field,” Noyce said. “He was certainly a legend at the Roosters and a legend in our great game and he’ll be very sorely missed.”

Fellow league great John Raper said: “He was such a great footballer and gave everything to the public.

“I just loved the man. You’d never hear a bad word about Arthur Beetson because he was such a loveable bloke.”

Australia and North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston also paid tribute to Beetson.

“Artie was an inspiration to all indigenous rugby league players, including myself, and will always be remembered as one of the greats of the game,” Thurston said.

In February 2008, Beetson was named in a list of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players (1908-2007) which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code’s centenary year in Australia.

Beetson went on to be named in the front-row in Australian rugby league’s Team of the Century.