On Monday they will come by bus from Moss Vale, likely a contingent from his home town of Griffith, from all points in and around the Wollongong area, as well as from the Sutherland Shire, for the funeral of Bryan Milthorpe, a larger than life rugby league man who left a lasting impression on many at the Sharks during the late 1980’s and early 90’s.
Milthorpe, who worked as first grade assistant to coach Alan Fitzgibbon from 1988 to 1991, then as reserve grade coach under Arthur Beetson in 1992, passed away last week aged 67 after a battle with cancer.
An icon of bush footy, in particular at the Dapto Canaries and at the Moss Vale Dragons in the Southern Highlands, affectionately referred to as ‘Big Joe’ to most to have known him, Milthorpe would become a popular figure and mentor to many at the Cronulla club during his five years in a coaching role.
Sharks immortal Gavin Miller chose to play his final game at Cronulla in the reserve grade team under the coaching of Milthorpe, with the pair becoming life long friends.
“We were very close friends, a champion bloke,” Miller said. “He had a very successful playing career, represented Illawarra many times, won a couple of competitions with Moss Vale, was heavily involved with Dapto and played under and also against Alan (Fitzgibbon) before he brought Bryan with him to the Sharks.”
Upon hearing the news of his passing, tributes flowed from numerous ex-Sharks including Robbie Kearns, Chris Quinn, Mark Wakefield, Darren Higgins and others, while high profile media identity and former player Darryl Brohman spoke glowingly of a man he met through the registered Clubs industry in which both were employed.
Brohman, who like a number of Milthorpe's friends visited his mate during his final days, will deliver a eulogy at Monday’s farewell.
“He was a terrific bloke. I knew him very well. He always had a story to tell. It’s very sad,” Brohman said.
A tough front rower, ‘Big Joe’ enjoyed a celebrated playing career, before turning his attention to coaching, bringing premierships to Moss Vale and success to wherever he would play or coach.
Ahead of the 1988 season Milthorpe was enticed to the Sharks by Fitzgibbon who had been appointed First Grade coach.
“He was a family friend, we had known each other for a very long time,” Fitzgibbon said.
As for the nickname “Big Joe’, despite having first come into contact with Milthorpe almost 50 years ago, Fitzgibbon was stumped as to where the moniker came from.
“He came from Griffith at about 18 years of age and they were already calling him ‘Big Joe’, so I really have no idea where it started,” he explained.
Fitzgibbon would also talk fondly of not only Milthorpe’s rugby league abilities, as a player, a coach and a mentor to many, but also of his character and popularity amongst all those he came into contact with, which would explain the choice of location for his funeral tomorrow in Dapto.
“The Showground is the biggest venue in Dapto, where people can be indoors and outdoors, and there will be a big crowd there on Monday,” Fitzgibbon added.
Milthorpe leaves behind a long-time partner in Leanne, and a loving family which includes daughters Aimee and Brooke, sons Dane and Nathan and 12 grandchildren.
“We already miss him more than you can imagine,” Aimee messaged in correspondence with Sharks Media.
Relatives and friends of Bryan ‘Big Joe’ Milthorpe are invited to attend his funeral service at Dapto Showground, 89-99 Princes Highway, Dapto, tomorrow (Monday), May 24 at 1pm.
For those unable to attend but wanting to pay their respects, the service will be live streamed via the following link - https://jummedia.com.au/live/bryan-david-milthorpe/
The Cronulla Sharks offer their sincere condolences to Bryan’s family and many friends.