HAROLD PETER ‘TANK’
PETER "Tank" Saunders' commitment to rugby union in the Hunter was matched only by the influence he carried.
He was a central figure with the Newcastle Rugby Union (NRU), now Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union, and the Newcastle Rugby Referees Association (NRRA), now Newcastle Rugby Union Referees Association, for nearly 40 years.
He held a number of senior positions and committee roles within both organisations and oversaw the sub-committee that set up the structure of the Country Rugby Referees Association.
But perhaps his passion for the game was never clearer than on the Saturday mornings and afternoons that he spent coaching referees to improve their skills.
He refereed between 1968 and 1987, amassing 350 grade games including 106 in the top grade.
Born in Merewether in 1941, Harold Peter Saunders earned his nickname very early in life. It was rumoured a nurse noted he was built like a tank, and the name stuck.
Rugby was waiting for Tank and in 1956-57 he began playing with the Waratahs, having spent his first season with Waratah Methodist Church under-16s.
He continued with the senior club, amassing 166 grade games over 10 years, including eight in first grade, and winning two premierships before trying his hand at coaching juniors.
He became devoted to rugby and stayed with the game until August 12, when he was called to higher service for the game they play in heaven.
After leaving school and becoming an apprentice with the Railways, Mr Saunders went to work at the Dockyard, Edmunds Moir and then Nesca. Mr Saunders was a qualified electrician and also had an electrical drafting qualification.
A diligent and thorough individual, Mr Saunders was a "people person" by nature. This attribute and his deeply held enthusiasm for rugby were guiding forces for both the NRU and the NRRA for nearly five decades.
In his later years he was also involved with the Adamstown Lions Club, where he was in charge of organising guest speakers.
He became assistant secretary of the NRRA in 1969, vice-president in 1976, president in 1979 and held a spot on the committee from 1982 to 1986.
Mr Saunders was an NRU board member from 1977 to 1987, then vice-president until 1993, when he was elected president. He continued in that position until 1997.
In parallel with the work required for these positions, Mr Saunders was chairman of the referee grading board, a referee coach, vice-president of Country Rugby Referees, NRU delegate to Country Rugby Union and a member of the NSW Rugby Council.
But it was his painstaking knowledge of the game's laws and his principled nature that made him an excellent and hugely respected first-grade referee.
He was able to take this wonderful talent into coaching referees when he stepped down from his position with the whistle. There are countless referees in Newcastle who have been on the end of one of his streetlight-powered discussions after a game, and that's just another reason for the attachment people had to him.
Mr Saunders had his own inimitable way of presenting the information from the game. He was able to balance his skills and abilities and apply these fairly and even-handedly in all the administrative positions he held across his years at the top level of the game in Newcastle.
When the Newcastle representative team travelled to Wellington, New Zealand, in the early 1980s, the NRU invited the NRRA to send along an active referee to accompany the team.
This was to be completely financed by the whistleblower himself and, although finances were tight, Mr Saunders felt this was an outstanding opportunity to promote both Newcastle and its standard of refereeing.
This was the first time a referee accompanied a team on tour and was the forerunner of later referee exchanges between Newcastle and New Zealand, and other refereeing associations.
Mr Saunders was made a life member of Newcastle Referees in 1986 and Newcastle Rugby Union in 1991.
His devotion to rugby and his wife Maureen and two children, Kristen and Anthony, remained the cornerstone of his life.