Tommy Raudonikis, who died on Wednesday aged 70, was the ultimate personification of a bygone rugby league era, but his blood continues to beat through the heart of the sport today.

Tommy Raudonikis was the ultimate personification of a bygone rugby league era, but his blood continues to beat through the heart of the sport today.
Raudonikis’s death at age 70 from cancer on Wednesday saddened the sport, with Wayne Bennett declaring, “they don’t make them like Tommy anymore”.
Known for his “cattle dog” catchcry that brought passion back to State of Origin during and immediately after the Super League war, Raudonikis was one of rugby league’s greatest characters.
Word of Raudonikis’s ill health had spread around rugby league circles earlier this week.
Bennett and Raudonikis had their first tours together for Australia in 1971. Bennett was a 21-year-old policeman and Raudonikis already one of the game’s great characters.
But on the field, Bennett saw the passion of New South Wales’s maiden State of Origin captain firsthand.
He described him as “as tough as they come”, with his style as a halfback in the 1970s still having influences over the game in 2021.
“He was a remarkable guy and everyone who played with him loved him,” Bennett said.
“Because he was what the game was about. He put his body on the line and didn’t let anyone down.”
The rugby league world is mourning the death of Tommy Raudonikis, pictured with his wife Trish in 2018.(AAP: Brendon Thorne
Bennett also coached against him in the 1998 State of Origin series, and this week told the story of the Queensland team following New South Wales from nightclub to nightclub after Raudonikis had told his players not to socialise with the Maroons.
“It sent him round the twist,” Bennett said.
For a proud Blues stalwart, Raudonikis had several links to Queensland.
He coached in the state after his playing days and brought Allan Langer and Brisbane’s current coach Kevin Walters through the grades.
“He had a big influence on my career early as a player,” Walters said.
“One of my fondest memories was the day he knocked on my door and asked myself and (brother) Kerrod to come and play for the Ipswich Jets.
“He was one of, or was my favourite player, growing up.”
So much so that Walters has challenged the Broncos to play with the spirit of the Blues great.
“If this Broncos team can get the attitude that Tommy did, we’ll be winning a lot more games,” Walters said.
Raudonikis (right), pictured with Brett Hodgson in 2008, had a special relationship with past and present rugby league players.(AAP/Action Photographics: Jonathan Ng
More recently, Raudonikis handed Nathan Cleary his debut Blues jersey in 2018, with the halfback now determined to play Origin with his predecessor on his mind.
“That’s something that I can definitely keep close to my heart now,” Cleary said.
“He just said to play tough and to go out there and do your thing.
“The biggest thing for him is he likes players who are tough so it’s something I’ll always keep in mind. I’ll try and make him proud.”
Former Penrith captain and fellow Cowra hero Royce Simmons said he always admired Raudonikis for not just his skill and consistency as a player, but his personality.
“He made you laugh. If you sat down with him … you walked away feeling better,” Simmons said.
“As my old dad used to say, ‘anyone who makes you laugh should never die’.
“That’s Tommy, I reckon.”
Born in Bathurst in regional New South Wales, Raudonikis was the son of an immigrant Lithuanian father and a Swiss mother.
After beginning his senior football career at Cowra, he continued it at Wagga Wagga, where he joined the RAAF as an engineering apprentice.
In 1969 he moved to Sydney and played the first of 201 matches with Western Suburbs in the Sydney first grade competition.
In almost every sense, Raudonikis was a perfect fit at the Magpies, a club with a long history of battling against adversity and producing no-nonsense players.
His time at the Magpies corresponded with one of the club’s greatest periods.
Although they did not manage to win a premiership, the Magpies of the Raudonikis era included John Dorahy, Les Boyd, John Donnelly and Graeme O’Grady.
LoadingAmong such an illustrious group, Raudonikis was voted the league’s best and fairest for 1972 and awarded the Rothman’s Medal.
More recently, Raudonikis was inducted into the Magpies’ Hall of Fame and was named one of Australian rugby league’s 100 greatest players.
After 11 seasons at the Magpies nine of them as club captain  Raudonikis reluctantly moved to Newtown in 1980, playing 37 matches over three seasons at the club.
After the Jets, which included a grand final as captain in 1981, he went to Queensland where he was captain-coach of the Brothers club in Brisbane in 1983 and also coached at Norths in Brisbane and at Ipswich, returning to Sydney for two forgettable seasons as coach of his former club Wests.
His two-year spell as New South Wales State of Origin coach included a series win in 1997 in which his infamous “cattle dog” war cry  an instruction to his players to start a brawl  was born.
As notorious and celebrated as Raudonikis’s efforts at club level may have been, it was his role as a New South Wales representative, an “Origin Original” and Australian international that gave more illustrious definition to his football career.
Having played for New South Wales in the old interstate series for 10 years, Raudonikis captained the Blues in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980.
That fixture was actually the third match of that year’s interstate series in which the state a player represented was determined by where he played club football, and had long resulted in lopsided New South Wales victories.
Queensland won 20-10 with Raudonikis, in his one-and-only Origin appearance, getting knocked out early but scoring a late try for the losers.
His recollection of the match was less-than-detailed but typically erudite: “There was a blue, I went over to it I went down like a bucket of s***.”
LoadingBoth his interstate and international careers ran from 1971 to 1980 and involved 24 games for New South Wales and 29 for Australia.
Reflecting on his finest moments in the green and gold, Raudonikis noted the only times in his career that he was sent off were on tours to England.
“I got sent off twice in England, but I should’ve got a medal because it was in Test matches and I took two Pommies with me,” he said.
Raudonikis had little time for the practise of players chatting and joking with their opponents after the full-time whistle.
“I hated the opposition like they’d done something wrong to the family,” he once said.
“I couldn’t wait to get off the field, especially if we got beaten, because I couldn’t wait till next week to redeem myself.”
While irreverence and confrontation may have characterised the Raudonikis image, his long-term friend and former coach at the Magpies, Roy Masters, provided another insight into a person he loved and respected.
In 2017, when Raudonikis was found to have a cancerous tumour in his neck, Masters a prominent sport journalist  wrote: “It should be no mystery why Tommy is universally loved.
“His twin defining characteristics are a searing honesty and a commitment to hard work. He is incapable of telling a lie.”
At the time of Raudonikis’s heart surgery, Masters observed: “Who could believe the very object that identified him would give him his biggest problem.
“At least the doctors will have plenty to work with.”