TRIBUTES are pouring in for Griffith rugby league great Len Bertoldo, a tough-as-teak front rower whose on-field heroics were matched only by his off-field compassion.
Mr Bertoldo, 66, passed away on Wednesday morning at Scalabrini Village after a long battle with dementia.
A towering figure in Group 20 rugby league, Mr Bertoldo’s career everest came in 1975, when he represented NSW alongside such legends as Bob Fulton, Arthur Beetson and Ron Coote.
“He will be a great loss to Griffith and a great loss to rugby league,” Mr Coote, a former Australian captain, said.
“Len was from the old school. He ran the ball up hard and said what he meant.”
Mr Bertoldo won an equal record-breaking seven Group 20 titles – six of them with his beloved Griffith Waratahs – and played in 10 grand finals.
He represented Riverina from 1975 to 1979, also representing Country in its famous 1975 victory over a star-studded City side.
His humble nature and love of Griffith saw him reject contracts from a host of Australian Rugby League (ARL) clubs, including Souths, Manly and Wests.
Born in Melbourne in 1947, Mr Bertoldo moved with his family to Yenda in 1949.
Never married and with no children, Mr Bertoldo was a bricklayer by trade but joined the family farming business after retiring from football.
Despite also being a handy boxer, basketballer, swimmer and rower, Mr Bertoldo’s deepest passion was for rugby league and fishing.
After finishing his career at Yenda, Mr Bertoldo remained heavily involved in local rugby league, becoming a Group 20 selector, a member of the referees’ appointment board, a Waratah-Tigers committeeman and a life member of both the club and Group 20.
But it was his behind-the-scenes generosity that impressed those that knew him best.
“Look, he was a tough bloke; you knew if you ran at him on the field he would barrel you,” friend and long-serving Group 20 head of referees Neville Hall said.
“But off the field, he was a thorough gentleman - he would give you the shirt off his back.
“There were many times a young fella couldn’t play because he couldn’t afford boots and Len would buy them for him. No one even knew he’d done it; that’s the way he liked it.”
Waratah-Tigers secretary Mark Jaffery said the first grade side would wear black armbands and hold a minute’s silence before Sunday’s clash with Yenda in Griffith.
“He is an absolute legend of the club and it’s a sad day for us all,” Mr Jaffery said.
Mr Bertoldo’s final farewell will be held on Tuesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 10am.
He is survived by his mother Linda *check spelling and sister Deanna Redfearn.