“He’d give us Aussies a hard time when we had the jerseys on but as soon as the full-time whistle went that was it and he’d be out there with the handshakes and that’s what made the Australia New Zealand tests so great, so wonderful.” Wally Lewis, Australian former rugby league footballer and coach.
Peter Leitch fell in love with rugby league in 1971, when he became a sponsor of the Mangere East Hawks. He started to go to the club for an occasional beer and quickly built a rapport with the people he met there.
“To say the game took over my life would be an understatement”, he says. “My passion is a combination of the game itself and the people who are involved in it.”
After getting behind the Mangere East Hawks, Peter began to spend a lot of time at Carlaw Park. By the end of the 1980s, he was promoting the Mad Butcher’s pre-season tournament. His energetic promotion on radio and in the press helped the spectator crowds to grow. At one point he even took over publication of the weekly league magazine, an experience that left him poorer and wiser. “It was a learning curve and, looking back, I did it for the wrong reasons. I did it with my heart, not my head.”
Finances were always a problem for the Hawks, so Peter waded in to help the club with fundraising. One of his initiatives involved getting league legend Wally Lewis to speak at a ‘small function of about 30 people’. When Wally got there, more than 1000 people were waiting for him. Wally said “and you can’t afford to pay me after this?”, to which Peter replied “that’s how you do business son”.
When the Warriors were formed in 1995, Peter was very much involved. He promoted the team heavily in his radio spots, always giving league as much (if not more) of a plug as the Mad Butcher specials.
Peter stayed away from the politics of league, preferring to focus on building support for the Warriors. By the end of the 1990s, he was regularly travelling with the team as the honorary ‘away manager’.
When the Warriors made it to the NRL Grand Final in 2002, Peter went ahead to whip up support. He organised a barbecue outside the stadium and more than 4000 people showed up. When the Warriors lost to the Roosters (30-8), Peter wasn’t broken hearted. “Rugby league is like my relief from business. When we lose, a lot of people get all pissed off and I think I should be crying too. But I say to people ‘It’s only a game of footy’. When I think of people who are very ill, then a game of footy’s no big deal.”
Peter says there’s never been a Warrior he didn’t like. “They’ve all been good blokes really. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an arsehole.” In recognition of his support of the Warriors, the club have retired the #19 jersey in his honour.
A highlight of Peter’s relationship with rugby league was his appointment as football manager for the Kiwis in the 2005 Tri-Nations campaign. When the Kiwis overcame incredible odds to beat the Kangaroos 24-0 in the final, they broke Australia’s 27-year undefeated international tournament record. We’d like to think that the Butcher’s immense resources of positive energy had a lot to do with it.