Mick Potter describes being recruited by Peter Mulholland to attend St Gregory’s College as a turning point in his life and dozens of other players across the game feel the same way.
Mulholland, who passed away on Thursday after a three-year battle with a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, touched so many people during a life devoted to league that his family have been overwhelmed by the response.
From ARLC chairman Peter V’landys to the eight clubs Mulholland was involved with as a coach, official or recruitment manager to the players whose careers he influenced, tributes have poured in from around the game.
“Pete should be pretty proud of the legacy that he has left,” said Potter, the former Wests Tigers coach who enjoyed a close relationship with Mulholland for more than 40 years and played under him at the Western Reds.
“His wife [Mel] did know, but with some of the conversations she is having now, she is realising even more how many people he touched.
“She has been inundated with calls from people she doesn’t even know, but she has heard their names before.”
Other former players to pay tribute to Mulholland included Jason Taylor, Matt Seers, James Pickering, Luke Rooney, Martin Lang, Duncan MacGillivray, Adrian Vowles, Ben Cross, John Wilshire, David Boyd and John Bateman.
Former Reds hooker Matt Fuller, who still lives in Perth 25 years after the demise of the club, said Mulholland had turned a “wayward kid into a man” and recognised his talent when no-one else did.
“I was very fortunate to get to say goodbye to you and to hear you say one last time that you were proud of me and loved me,” Fuller posted on Facebook.
“Even on your death bed you tried to make me feel good. Pete turned boys into men and is one of the greatest humans to grace this earth."
Potter visited Mulholland on Tuesday and said his 68-year-old mentor wasn’t well.
He had suffered a number of setbacks in his cancer battle but refused to concede defeat or stop working as Canberra’s recruitment and high performance manager.
Wayne Bennett, who worked with Mulholland at Newcastle, said the game had been much more than a job to him.
"He just loved rugby league and its people," Bennett said. "He will be missed because of all his connections and all the people that he helped. He stretched himself because he genuinely wanted to help people.
"You can't do what he did; meet all the people, do all the travelling, make all the commitments to kids and whatever else if it is a job. It just overwhelms you but if you love it, you manage it. He had a huge impact on the game."
Raiders CEO Don Furner and coach Ricky Stuart led the tributes for Mulholland, who had assembled most of the squad that played in the 2019 grand final against Sydney Roosters.
He was also on John Lang’s coaching staff at Penrith when the club won the 2003 grand final after joining the Panthers in 1999 following a stint with the failed Paris Super League club.
Mulholland helped establish the Panthers on the Prowl community project, in which many of the club’s players trained as teacher’s aides to help in local schools, before moving into recruitment.
Josh Jackson, Dale Finucane and Adam Elliott are among the players he discovered for Canterbury between 2008 and 2011.
He joined Bennett at Newcastle in 2012 and developed the likes of Joseph Tapine, Sione Mata'utia, Danny Levi and Jake Mamo, who played in the Knights under 20s team that won the 2014 minor premiership.
That same season Mullholland moved to St George Illawarra before finding his way to Canberra in 2016.
“He has done the rounds and I think he has left a positive impact everywhere he has been,” Potter said.
“He had a good eye for talent, and he got most of his recruitment right."
Potter was one of the first players Mulholland recruited after approaching the then 14-year-old Camden junior about attending Campbelltown’s St Gregory’s College.
“It was one of the turning points in my life, really,” said the two-time Dally M Medal winner. “He had a big influence on me in general.”
Taylor and Ivan Henjak were others to play under Mulholland at the renowned rugby league school, which he guided to a record nine schoolboy cup titles.
Like Potter, who gained his coaching qualifications after joining Mulholland in Perth for the final two seasons of his illustrious playing career, Taylor and Henjak also became coaches.
“Peter was the best bloke you will ever meet. He was such a beautiful man who had time for everybody,” said Taylor, who credited Mulholland as a major reason for the star Magpies junior joining North Sydney.
“He loved footy and was a great coach. His players loved him but so did most of the people he met.”
After taking charge of Western Suburbs Under 21s team in 1988, Mulholland steered the Bears to the 1993 reserve grade premiership and was head hunted to be the foundation coach of the Western Reds in 1995.
It was during that time Mulholland developed ongoing relationships with many in the game, including members of the media, and he could not only remember reporter's names but recall articles they wrote about the Reds more than 25 years ago.
“I don’t know anyone’s name that he can’t remember,” Potter said.
“It is just astonishing, with the amount of places he has been, clubs he has been at and influence he has had. Even with St Gregs, to remember all the Old Boys, is just phenomenal.
“Some of the social media over the last 24 hours has been phenomenal and it has come from such broad spectrum of people - from coaches, ex-players, current players, journos to player agents.
“That shows how far his touch and reach extends throughout the game.”
The NSWRL awarded Mulholland life membership last year and officials paid tribute to him.
“He was universally respected by everybody," NSWRL CEO David Trodden said. "He was one of the great junior talent judges.”
NSWRL Regional Area Manager for Broken Bay on the state’s Central Coast, Keith Onslow, said Mulholland left an extensive legacy in the game.
“There are so many people who owe their careers or livelihoods to Peter Mulholland for the influence he had on them at varying times,” Onslow told the NSWRL.com.au website.
"He was always there for people as they were coming through or going out the other end. He could always make you laugh and even through his illness, he kept a smile on his face.