Well now they are calling for a state funeral for Tommy Raudonikis. Well, wouldn’t he be proud. State funerals are usually saved for notable politicians, war heroes and society luminaries. I’m not sure it will happen, but Tommy certainly was the peoples’ champion.
He was an above average footballer rising to the top by captaining his country in Test football and coaching his home state in the Origin arena.
I ‘met’ Tommy twice in his lifetime at either end of his illustrious career. I say met because the first occasion was in the late 60’s when he was in his late teens. He was playing for the RAAF in Wagga Wagga in the Group 13 competition. I was playing for the Albury Roos and when he tackled me, mouthed off about our team being a bunch of ‘Roo…s’. I took offence of course as I was still a virgin at the time. He kept going on throughout the match and after half time it became worse because he had found out we were all getting paid to play. He took offence at that and resented our success.
I remember that game particularly because of the action of the referee at the time. When Tommy was at his niggling best with a feisty style to his tackling and always pushing the boundaries the referee that day was quite innovative. He told Tommy to leave the field for ten minutes to seek medical assistance. This was before the ten- minute sinbin was established. Tommy wasn’t injured of course and took exception to leaving the field but when the referee told him about the alternative (send-off) he complied. He returned late in the game and if anything was worse.
While in Wagga he attracted the attention of Arthur Summons who left the Sydney competition after many seasons with Western Suburbs. He encouraged him to make the move and the rest is history. Incidentally soon after, another Wagga local Steve Mortimer made the move to the big smoke (Canterbury) and they were representative rivals for more than a decade.
The second occasion was some fifteen years later in Brisbane. Tommy had just completed a coaching stint with Brisbane Brothers and my open age schoolboy team were doing well in a state carnival on Brothers’ complex. One of my parents knew Tommy well and asked him to speak to the boys and offer some encouragement. Well, the language was a bit raw as was the advice given but he was so genuine in his love of the game. A few lemonades that night, were, entertaining let me assure you.
Throughout his career he was never politically correct in his views be it on players, clubs and officialdom but always so well respected just the same.
He ended his playing career with Newtown (taking them to a grand final) and he went there with the job of not so much teaching them how to win but rather how to ‘never give up’. He certainly did that with all those he came across.
The NRL could do worse and name an award after Tommy at the Daly M’s. I’ll take suggestions as to its title from those in the grandstand.