Hours after receiving the news that no cancer patient wants to hear, Pete Mulholland was on the phone to tell an emotional mother that her son had been picked in the Raiders’ first-grade side to play the Melbourne Storm.
Sixty-six-year-old Mulholland had been informed on Tuesday this week that his rare form of blood cancer, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, had returned.
This was three months after the last PET scan had revealed that he was effectively in remission, so to be told in July that it had returned was a hammer blow. However, Mulholland concedes it didn’t come as a major surprise as he had been short of breath recently.
“It’s not if but when at the moment. It’s about quality of life. These are circumstances where it is out of my control,” Mulholland says.
With the prospect now of life span uncertainty, what keeps him positive is rugby league; in particular, the young players he first spotted as age-grade footballers now progressing to first grade.
One such player is Kai O’Donnell, who makes his first-grade debut for the Raiders in Saturday night’s game against the Melbourne Storm.
Mulholland has seen a lot of young players strive to reach their potential in rugby league. He spent 18 years coaching schoolboy rugby league before taking on various roles at seven clubs before landing at the Raiders.
He knows what to look for in footballers and it’s not just their ability to play. In O’Donnell, he saw something special.
O’Donnell had to fight his way into the top squad after being on a NSW Cup contract last year before securing an NRL Development contract this season.
Mulholland first noticed him in the Queensland juniors a few years ago, then watched his progression with the Burleigh Bears on the Gold Coast.
O’Donnell, who was originally from Proserpine, is close to the perfect prototype that Mulholland gravitates towards. He sees him as a talented player from a supportive family, who is willing to work hard and takes nothing for granted.
So just hours after being told that his cancer had returned, Mulholland was on the phone to O’Donnell’s mother in Proserpine to inform her that her son would be making his first-grade debut.
“I rang his mother on Tuesday night. She was in tears. He’s a great young man from a great family,” says Mulholland.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see these young players coming through. It was great to hear the reaction from Kai’s mum. The gratitude from these young players and their families is enormous.”
If nothing else, Mulholland says it’s keeping him positive as he prepares for another tough battle.
He has also been buoyed by the support of the Raiders, from coach Ricky Stuart to CEO Don Furner, Simon Hawkins and the board. He says the organisation has been great.
There’s a fair chance that come Saturday night he won’t be thinking about his own health struggles, though.
Instead, there’ll be a beaming smile as Kai O’Donnell runs onto the field at Canberra Stadium.
The Canberra Raiders take on the Melbourne Storm on Saturday, 10 July at 7:35 pm. For the latest information about ticketing and COVID-19 restrictions, visit the Raiders.