Former NRL coach Peter Mullholland talks about his cancer battle. Picture: Chris Pavlich/The Daily Telegraph
Former NRL coach Peter Mullholland talks about his cancer battle. Picture: Chris Pavlich/The Daily Telegraph

League legend tackles toughest battle

PETER "Skull" Mulholland tells stories from his 40 years in rugby league that make you cry with laughter.

And those memories have never been more important than right now, as one of the game's genuine good guys tackles the fight of his life.

The 65-year-old current Canberra Raiders recruitment chief has dropped 16 kilos since struggling to walk up his driveway last July, before ultimately being diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in January.

And while dealing with the night sweats and chemotherapy, it's been flashbacks through decades of identifying, coaching and mentoring a production line of champion footballers and champion people that is getting him through his darkest hours.

Like the time he was coaching Mark Geyer at the Western Reds and the big fella had just come back from a suspension when he got into a stink with John Hopoate.

But it was after MG won himself another date with the judiciary that Mulholland came up with a plan.

"I don't think Hoppa landed a punch but we thought we'd better put some make-up on MG just to make it look like he had a black eye," Mulholland said with a laugh.

"Anyway, low and behold, MG turned on the tears during the hearing and then after when we walked outside the weather turned.

"So it's raining, and I am standing there putting a shield up to try and not show the make-up running down his face."

Former Western Reds player Mark Geyer, left leaves the tribunal in Perth with his advocate Damian Gare and   coach Peter Mulholland in 1996.
Former Western Reds player Mark Geyer, left leaves the tribunal in Perth with his advocate Damian Gare and coach Peter Mulholland in 1996.

Geyer ended up copping a suspension that night.

But to this day, Mulholland still rates him one of the greatest success stories rugby league has produced.

"Of all the people I have coached, the greatest transition in life is his," Mulholland said.

Mulholland even took time out on Friday to phone Geyer just to wish him the best after the hell of a week he had been through.

Mulholland always had a reputation of seeing the good in people who others might rather turn their backs on.

He started out coaching juniors way back in 1974 and after spending 15 years at the famous St Gregory's College at Campbelltown, which  produced 20 Australian Schoolboys under his guidance, he went on to work at eight different clubs.

From the old Wests Magpies to North Sydney, the Reds, Penrith, Canterbury, Newcastle, St George Illawarra and now Canberra.

Peter Mulholland, right, on the sidelines with Penrith coach John Lang in 2003. Picture: Colin Whelan
Peter Mulholland, right, on the sidelines with Penrith coach John Lang in 2003. Picture: Colin Whelan

And all that goodwill he has handed out is now coming back through messages of support after his decision to join the World's Greatest Shave this week to raise money for the fight against blood cancer.

"I went for a lay-down on Tuesday afternoon and my wife rang," he said.

"She said, 'How you going?'

"I said, 'All right, but have you had the cat sleeping on my pillow?'

"She said, 'What are you talking about?'

"So I put my hand in my hair and pulled out a clump.

"I thought, well, I'd better get my hair shaved now. It was probably the first realisation of it all."

But for months now, his close friends have known about Mulholland's health.

And it has led to people such as Mick Potter, a former St Greg's student who went on to win two Dally M Medals, turning up unannounced to kick-start a working bee at Mulholland's property.

Penrith coach Royce Simmons (R) talks to assistant Peter Mulholland during training at Penrith Park in 2001. Picture: Dan Peled
Penrith coach Royce Simmons (R) talks to assistant Peter Mulholland during training at Penrith Park in 2001. Picture: Dan Peled

Now, everywhere he turns, people are putting their hands up to help.

So many high-profile names, and others most of us may not remember, but old "Skull" certainly does.

There was this one beautiful message from former Panther Craig Trindall that said it best: "Pete Mulholland the man that don't give up on anything … U never gave up on helping me and I like to say thanks mate … good luck Pete."

Mulholland concedes he has been overwhelmed.

"It is really touching," he said.

"A lot of stuff we get taught in school is irrelevant but the most important thing to teach kids is to treat people the way you want to be treated.

"That is the basis of it all. I tried to teach that as much as I could in the classroom and in footy.

"I won't lie, there are dark moments. But I was ready for a fight.

"You know your own body and when I was losing weight I knew something was wrong.

"But my belief is it is what it is, you have got to deal with the cards you have been dealt.

"They now have a conclusive diagnosis and I am happy to work with it.

"It's a non-Hodkinson's Lymphoma and it is a strand of it called AITL (angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma).

"I don't really want to know much about it.

"I have said that to my family, I'd rather just leave myself in the hands of the experts and let them deal with it.

"There are a lot of people out there far worse off than me."

You can donate at: http://my.leukaemiafoundation.org.au/petermulholland