TOURING WITH ‘PINK’

HAVING bought Rugby League Week every week since the first edition in 1970 (when I was still at school), it was a great thrill to be able to cover the 1982 Kangaroo tour with founding editor, Geoff Prenter.
Prenter (or Pinky as he was known by many, because of his rosy cheeks) was working for Sydney afternoon newspaper, The Sun at that stage.
I covered the tour for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’, and the newspaper’s budget meant I had to forgo covering the first five matches. 
I caught up with the other members of the media pack in Cardiff, Wales ahead of the international (it was not afforded Test status) against the Welsh national side at Ninian Park.
Prenter had a flash car, which he had hired, at a reduced rate, through legendary former Australian forward, Arthur Clues, who chose to live in Leeds after an illustrious playing career with the Headingley based club.
The first ride I shared with Prenter took us to British training at Grimsby in Lincolnshire, ahead of the First Test, which was to be played at Boothferry Park, Hull. Also in the car was Robert Smith from Australian Associated Press.
We all agreed the British had looked pretty smart, going through their drills at a local school ground, under the watchful eye of John Whitely, who had coached Britain to an Ashes series win in Australia in 1970.
On the Thursday before the Test, we attended the Rugby League Writers’ Dinner at ‘The Willows’, Salford, part of the Salford Red Devils home ground. Guest speaker was John McGrath, a former Newcastle United Soccer star, who, at that time, was manager of Port Vale.
British Test forward, Mick Adams, a good mate of mine, wanted me to come back to Widnes for a few ales at ‘Big Jim’s’ Nightclub (Big Jim, is Welshman, Jim Mills, who played union for Cardiff and league for Wales and Britain). I took the ‘marginally’ safer option, and went back to Leeds with Prenter.
Test fever was building at our hotel, the Dragonara, with several Australian supporters’ groups checking in, most notably one led by Sydney media personality, Frank Hyde. Frank and Geoff Prenter were afforded celebrity status, just like the players.
The next day, Australia belted the Poms 44-4, the performance doing a lot to silence vocal English radio commentator, Peter Fox (also coach of Bradford Northern) whose voice dominated the media area.
The media group also included Andrew Passamar and Christian Burgos from France, with the ‘Roos to tour their country after the British leg. I had met both men the previous year, when the French toured Australia and New Zealand.
Back at the Dragonara, the reception area bar was full of raucous supporters singing ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.
The Australians went on to win their remaining 15 matches in Britain and France, returning home as the first undefeated side to tour the northern Hemisphere.
Geoff Prenter and I kept in touch over the years, professionally and as friends.
It was heart breaking for him to see Rugby League Week roll off the presses for the last time in March, 2017.
“I was fortunate to start Rugby League Week without the saturation cover that television and daily newspapers provide today,” he said, in a “Founding Editor’s'”column in the farewell edition.
“But it is pure blissful ignorance to suggest modern technology is the cause of RLW’s demise. In 1970 I pitted myself against the full financial force and fury of the Fairfax and Murdoch empires. My colleagues at ‘The Sun’ newspaper said I was crazy to think I could compete against such media luminaries.
“My idea to make a go of it, was to produce a newspaper that the players would enjoy. RLW was ‘the players’ paper’. I knew if the players liked it, so too would the punters”.
His gamble paid off. When he handed over the reins to Ian Heads in 1981, RLW’s circulation was 100,000. As much as anything else, Prenter put League Week’s demise down to the fact it became a glossy magazine, just like any other, instead of staying a hard hitting newspaper.
Photo: Geoff Prenter.

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