‘A force of nature’: NRL great Tommy Raudonikis dead at 70

Tommy Raudonikis, the Western Suburbs icon who both played for Australia and coached NSW, has died. He was 70.

One of rugby league’s great characters, Raudonikis succumbed to a long battle with cancer on Wednesday morning.

“There are few icons in the history of rugby league that will stand as tall as Tommy Raudonikis,” Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis.

“Tommy wore the black and white with fervour and passion like no other and is revered for his contribution to our club, our state and our country.

“Tommy will always be remembered as a true legend and unequivocally crucial part of the fabric of Western Suburbs and, in turn, Wests Tigers, and his legacy in the game will certainly live on in the DNA of our club.”

Wests Tigers will recognise and celebrate Tommy Raudonikis’ impact on the club this Sunday when they take on the North Queensland Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval.

The rugby league community has already begun honouring the great man.

“What a sad day!” tweeted Darryl Brohman. “Great Bloke. Wonderful footballer and a true Aussie knockabout who could just about get away with anything. Thoughts with Trish and Family. RIP Legend.”

“His loss will shatter our great game,” Daily Telegraph rugby league reporter Dean Ritchie tweeted.

“What a legend Tommy Raudonikis is,” added Chris Garry. “The nicest tough guy ever. I’m sure him and Big Artie are having a schooner together somewhere.”

Tommy Raudonikis in Brisbane. Picture: Lachie MillardSource:News Corp Australia

Tommy’s story

Raudonikis was born in Bathurst, NSW, to a Lithuanian father and Swiss mother who had immigrated to Australia.

“Mum was pregnant with me on the boat, and I was born at the migrant camp in Bathurst,” he told NRL.com last year.

“I went to a rugby league school and I also played soccer, (but) I always leaned towards league.

“Then I joined the Air Force as an apprentice mechanic but I never thought I’d be good enough to make Sydney grade.

“Then in early 1969 I played with Wagga Kangaroos and Wests came down to have a look at me. By the end of the year I was playing in Sydney.”

Raudonikis played more than 200 games for the Western Suburbs Magpies, many under legendary coach Roy Masters, and 37 more in three seasons with the Newtown Jets.

He captained the Magpies from 1971-79 and the Jets from 1980-82.

Tommy Raudonikis playing for the Newtown Jets.Source:News Regional Media

He went on to be a successful coach.Source:News Regional Media

“Singo (John Singleton) offered me some good money, and even though me and Warren Ryan didn’t see eye-to-eye over various things, those three years at Newtown were three of my greatest years,” Raudonikis said. “Warren Ryan got Newtown playing some great football but I taught Newtown how to win.”

The tough halfback was first selected for Australia in 1971, debuted the following year and went on to play more than 20 Tests including touring with the Kangaroos in 1973 and 1978.

“If blokes did today what we did back then they’d never tour again, but we knew how far we could go,” he famously said.

Just spoke to John Lang about Tommy Raudonikis- they were in the ‘73 Kangaroos tour together.

He last saw Tommy in November at a league function on the Gold Coast.

“We used to call him Tommy Ridiculous. He was a force of nature.”

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Raudonikis also captained NSW in the very first Origin match in 1980 before beginning a coaching career.

He started by leading Brothers, Norths and the Ipswich Jets in Brisbane before returning to Western Suburbs from 1995 to 1999.

He also coached the NSW Origin side in 1997 and 1998, introducing the “Cattledog” call which resulted in two infamous brawls.

“I was quite successful, but the head blokes at Wests said if I went for (the Origin job) again that I wouldn’t have got it. They wanted me to concentrate fully on Western Suburbs, which I ended up doing. But we came last anyway,” he said last year.

“I am that filthy on myself to this day for not putting in for it because I might still be coaching. That was my downfall at Western Suburbs, too. I listened to too many people and should have stuck to my guns. But I love Wests dearly. They were the first club that gave me a go.”

Tommy Raudonikis presents a jersey to Nathan Cleary in Brisbane in 2018.Source:Supplied

Tommy Raudonikis

Born: April 13, 1950 in Bathurst, NSW

Debut: Round 17, 1969. Magpies v Dragons at Lidcombe Oval

Games: 238. Magpies 201 (1969-79), Jets 37 (1980-82)

Representative career: City Firsts 8 games (1972-76, 78-80), NSW 22 games (1971-80), Australia 29 games (1972-75, 77-80)

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