WHERE ARE THEY NOW: We take a look back at the glittering career of the Wests and Newtown legend, including his latest move into the entertainment industry.
Rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis is livid with Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer and George Lucas. He was waiting for their calls after his “starring” role in Australian feature film The Final Winter… but the phone never rang.
“I was pretty dirty after that movie – I was expecting a few offers from Hollywood but they didn’t come my way,” Raudonikis says of his role playing a board member alongside John Jarratt and Matty Johns in the 2008 rugby league drama.
“I thoroughly enjoyed that even though I only said about two words! It’s a good movie about how things are changing in the game and in society and in sport – it was fantastic to be involved.”
After a glittering career with Western Suburbs, Newtown, NSW and Australia that spanned 1969-1982, it’s somehow easy to overlook Raudonikis’ on-field efforts as a livewire, creative and, above all, tough-as-nails halfback. He’s had stints in the media, jobs as a motivational speaker and even produced his own music single. The song ‘Harden Up’, featuring The Cattledogs (look it up on YouTube) pulls no punches – just like the man himself.
“I was just getting fed up with society and with the way people are – we’re just not tough enough and just need to harden up,” Raudonikis insists.
“There’s no accountability. People do something wrong and they now need to go and get counselling – they don’t need counselling, they need to be hit around the ears with a big stick! That’s what the song’s about – being accountable for your own actions.”
Raudonikis currently co-owns and runs a business in the hospitality-supplies industry, and lives in Paradise Point on Queensland’s Gold Coast. But don’t suggest he’s changing allegiances.
“I still love the Blues and I always will, even though I live up here,” Raudonikis, who’s battled health issues but is now “all good”, tells NRL.com.
“Some of my best memories are of playing or coaching for NSW.”
A veteran of 201 first grade games for Western Suburbs, three seasons at Newtown, 29 appearances for the Kangaroos and captain of the Blues in the first Origin match in 1980, Raudonikis has a rugby league résumé like few others. But some of his fondest football memories are off the field – as coach of the Blues in 1997 and 1998.
“My coaching style was unique, that’s for sure! [The 1997 Origin series] was one of the greatest moments in my life,” Raudonikis recalls. “I first got picked [as NSW Origin coach] when the [ARL-Super League] war was on... people need to remember there was a big split. They needed a coach like Tom Raudonikis. They couldn’t have a coach that went to uni or anything like that. They needed a bloke – a coach – the public could relate to. And that’s one of the reasons I was selected.
“Probably the ‘cattledog’ [call, to start a brawl in the 1997 series] was one of the great memories – we just called it in and ‘Joey’ (Andrew Johns) got sat on his backside. They were different times – the boys could go out and have a beer, as long as they agreed to turn up ready to play State of Origin on the Wednesday. They were terrific times – getting to coach ‘The Chief’ (Paul Harragon), Laurie Daley, ‘Freddie’ Fittler, little Geoff Toovey, Paul McGregor... I’m talking about all these great players and here I was coaching them! ”
That ‘cattledog’ call to arms was Raudonikis personified. In his playing days he never took a backward step. That aggression, coupled with the playmaking potential polished by some of the best coaches in the game, created a true rugby league legend.
“I was never ever the greatest player in the world but I was certainly the toughest and hardest halfback that ever played and I hated losing,” Raudonikis, a member of the ARL’s 100 Greatest Players, Men of League’s Toughest 12 and a Magpie Immortal, admits.
“[I was coached by] Roy Masters, Graeme Langlands, Warren Ryan, Ted Glossop and Harry Bath. The coaches taught me the skills of the game. Roy was like a father to me and still is. He’s a great man. In the years at Western Suburbs as the Fibros, you just had to be there to know how good it was. We were one big family and Roy made us all believe we were downtrodden – we were all from battling families and we played in the battling areas out there in Lidcombe and Silverwater. It was like a great big family and we played with tremendous aggression and had some great success.”
But unfortunately for Raudonikis and his Western Suburbs team-mates that success was tempered. Never did they make a grand final in his 11-season stretch at the club, exiting at the preliminary final stages three times. It was similarly heartbreaking for Raudonikis at Newtown from 1980-1982, although they made the ‘big one’ in 1981.
“It was very, very disappointing not to win a competition but if that’s the worst thing that happens to Tom Raudonikis I can live with that,” he says while steaming mud crabs delivered to him by close friend Arthur Beetson.
“I have no problems with that. It would’ve been nice to win one and run around the SCG with the trophy – it would’ve been terrific – but it wasn’t to be. At Newtown, we just weren’t good enough on the day against Parramatta (in 1981), but at Western Suburbs one year we got knocked out in the semi-finals against Manly when we should’ve won.”
But premiership or no premiership, Raudonikis, who still supports the Wests Tigers and says they’ll be difficult to beat for the rest of the year, has no regrets.
“Nah, mate, no regrets whatsoever – whether on or off the football field. In my life I don’t have a single regret,” he says.
“Maybe I could have done things a bit better – maybe when I look back on my life I could’ve been a better father – but there’s not much I can do about it now. I’ve been broke twice, but I’m going alright now... I’m surviving. In 1973 I lost the Kangaroos captaincy – we were in France and I played up one night and I paid the penalty – but I accepted it and was accountable for my actions. Everything in life is a learning experience – there are no regrets. I still get out and love my fishing and crabbing... life’s too short not to have fun.”
With an attitude like that and such an amazing story to tell, maybe a Hollywood producer will dial Raudonikis’ digits one day. Here’s hoping.