Rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis has passed away this morning aged 70, following a battle with cancer.
Renowned as one of the game’s hard men, Raudonikis captained New South Wales in the first ever State of Origin match and represented Australia in dozens of Test matches.
One of the dominant halfbacks of the 1970s, he enjoyed a long club career with Western Suburbs, turning out more than 200 times in an 11-year stint at the Magpies between 1969-79. Afterwards, he moved to Newtown for three years, before finishing his playing career with Brothers in Brisbane in 1983.
In 1972, Raudonikis was awarded the Rothmans Medal, crowning him the best player in the NSWRL, and eight years later he took home the Dally M representative player of the year. He was inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame in 2008.
“There are few icons in the history of rugby league that will stand as tall as Tommy Raudonikis,” Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis said in a statement.
“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.”
Peter V’landys, the Australian Rugby League Commission’s chairman, also paid tribute, claiming “there will never be another Tommy Raudonikis.”
“Tommy was everything that makes rugby league the greatest game of all. He grew up in a migrant camp in Cowra and went on to become NSW’s first Origin captain.
“As a player there were none tougher. He was a brilliant halfback, what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in smarts and courage to become one of the best players of his era.
“He made people laugh as one of the game’s great larrikins and epitomised the passion and tribalism that is unique to rugby league.
“On behalf of the entire rugby league community, I send my deepest condolences to Tommy’s family and friends,” he said.
After his playing days, Raudonikis moved into coaching, taking the reins at Brothers, Norths and Ipswich in Queensland, as well as returning to Wests as coach from 1995 until their merger with Balmain.
But it was as NSW Blues coach that he truly furthered his place in rugby league folklore, bringing in the infamous “cattledog” cry in 1997 which preceded a flurry of fists on the field.
“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’.”
Raudonikis had a string of health issues before his death, including throat and testicular cancer diagnoses, and quadruple heart bypass surgery.