The ‘Mad Butcher’ Sir Peter Leitch, is one of my favorite people, not just because of his great work for rugby league, but also because of his generous, outgoing, and sometimes outrageous nature.
In my time as a rugby league writer, Peter was also courteous and helpful, and our association goes back to the 1980s, when I would send items for publication in the Auckland club program, which he printed, at a loss, I might add. He did it as a service to the code, which he started supporting through sponsorship of the Mangere East club in 1971.
My contributions were free, but I benefited, via Peter sending me items from ‘across the ditch’, which I published in the Brisbane program.
In 1999 Peter and his wife, Jan (a budding artist at the time) hosted me at their lovely harbor side home, after I had covered the Tri-Nations series, which featured Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain.
Roast pork was on the menu for dinner, which was also enjoyed by his daughter, Judy and her fiancee.
The next day, Peter took me to several of his butcher shops, as well as the Mangere East Club, before I flew back to Australia.
‘Butcher’ had helped me with accommodation on the Coromandel Peninsula, where I enjoyed a break after covering the Tri-Nations final in Auckland, a match won 22-20 by the Aussies, over the Kiwis. Chris Anderson was the Australian coach, with Mat Rogers the star on the day.
I got the train from Auckland (after lunch at harborside Cin Cin and a beer at the Kiwi Tavern, where the Te Atatu Roosters rugby league club was featured) to Hamilton. The train service was quick and efficient, with quaint touches, particularly in relation to the commentary.
My cab driver from Hamilton Rail to my motel was an Aussie from Cabramatta, who had settled in New Zealand after falling in love with the surfing scene at Raglan.
That night I enjoyed drinks at the Fox and Hounds, and then a student bar, where I watched Australia play Pakistan in the cricket. Back at my room I watched Australia beat France in the rugby union World Cup final. It was a good time to be an Aussie in New Zealand.
The following day I walked along the banks of the Waikato River, where I witnessed a Maori baptism. A pub, where I enjoyed a pre-dinner ale, displayed a Tawera Nikau rugby league jersey, with the 19-Test veteran a product of Huntly, in the Waikato region.
But the main focus of my short Kiwi break was to be Whitianga, on the Coromondal Peninsula, where I stayed at Warriors’ official, Neil Smithson’s motel. Neil, a stalwart of the Manukau club, and his wife, Renee can best be described as ‘salt of the earth people’ and proved great hosts, taking me to Smithy’s Bar and Grill for dinner and to meet their friends.
On my first full day on the peninsula, I explored Coromandel township, as well as Thames. Local snapper, for dinner, was beautiful.
TV1’s ‘Tight Five’ rugby union show was amateur TV at its best, or worst, depending on your view point.
The following day I walked to Castle Cove and joined German tourists at Hot Water Beach. Lunch at Coroglen Tavern, just after a cattle sale.
The only negatives I can find from my time on the peninsula are the locals penchant for tail gating on the road, and of course, some of the beers on tap – Waikato Draught is an acquired taste and Macs Gold is insipid.
Photo 1: Peter Leitch, aka ‘The Mad Butcher’
Photo 2: Tawera Nikau playing for Kiwis against the Kangaroos.