The rugby league family is mourning the death of Tommy Raudonikis.
It was announced this morning that the legendary hard man of rugby league had lost his long battle with throat cancer at age 70.
In many respects, it is hard to encapsulate a life filled with so many stories that have been enshrined in folklore.
What was beyond dispute was his toughness. At 170 centimetres tall, he was never the biggest player on the field, but he had an outsized aura and was afraid of no one, no matter their size.
Raudonikis was grounded and shaped by a rural NSW childhood.
Born in a Bathurst migrant camp, the son of a Lithuanian father and a Swiss mother, Tommy came to Cowra as an infant. He began his football career playing scrum-half in the Central West town where a football oval today bears his name.
After leaving school, Tommy began work as a farmhand. He played briefly in the dying days of the legendary Maher Cup competition across southern inland NSW, which boasted no less than 40 players on the Kangaroos’ register over the duration of the competition.
In those days, rural NSW was a nursery for rugby league greats, including Tommy’s future Western Suburbs teammate Les Boyd and many others.
Tommy played for the Wagga Kangaroos while he served in the RAAF as an engineering apprentice, fronting up against Arthur Summons, who then guided him to Wests in Sydney in 1969.
Two years later, Tommy was playing for NSW and Australia.
He played 202 matches for Wests and 37 for Newtown, 24 games for NSW and 20 tests for Australia. He also coached Wests and for two years in 1997 and 1998 and the NSW Origin team.
They were hard days for hard men and Tommy was the dominant halfback of his time, making up what he lacked in size with courage and cunning on the field.
As Blues coach, he originated the legendary “cattledog” call from the sidelines, an instruction for players to begin a fight on-field to swing the momentum of the match.
“I wanted a name for us to come to arms, to put a blue on,” Raudonikis said on The Footy Show in 2017.
“Would we call it Anzac? Would we call it Gallipoli? Jimmy Dymock put his hand up and said, ‘coach, let’s call it the Cattledog’.”
In February 2008, he was named one of Australia’s 100 greatest rugby league players. In the same year the Western Suburbs Magpies celebrated their centenary by inducting six inaugural members, including Tommy, into the club’s Hall of Fame.
There were times when Raudonikis appeared indestructible, with his life on the football field replicated elsewhere. He was generous and amusing, and his distinctive gravelly voice, made raspy by decades of smoking, was recognisable anywhere.
He spent plenty of time on the speaking circuit after coaching, regaling audiences with tales of his football career.
But he also fought multiple health issues, including testicular cancer, a quadruple bypass and, finally, throat cancer.
I well remember hosting him a number of times at functions in Canberra where the battles with Queensland on and off the field sprang to life, like the time he threw an opposition player’s bag out the window while they were in camp.
“Anything to unsettle the opposition even if they were in your own team,” he’d say, along with his oft-repeated motto to “never give a mug an even chance”.
There was another time when he was picked up by his function hosts in Canberra only to be told that he didn’t need to wear a tie.
Tommy thought it was the greatest thing he had been told in a long time, and that night he appeared on stage in his well-worn NSW State of Origin bomber jacket.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys led the tributes to Tommy this morning.
“Tommy was one of a kind. There will never be another Tommy Raudonikis,” he said.
And it’s true. Tommy loved people and they loved him back.
Original Article published by Tim Gavel on The RiotACT.