Respect the SCG's history: Raudonikis
Western Suburbs legend Tommy Raudonikis has urged players from both teams to stop for a moment and appreciate where they are when Wests Tigers meet St George Illawarra at the SCG on Sunday.
The game will celebrate the 50-year anniversary of one of the great grand finals – the 1963 epic in which St George beat Wests 8-3 on an SCG mudheap. It was the game in which the iconic photo of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons' famous embrace, as reproduced on the Telstra Premiership Trophy, was taken at fulltime.
It is arguably the highlight clash of the Men of League Heritage Round, which celebrates the traditions and some of the biggest rivalries of the greatest game of all.
Raudonikis has a heavy heart at the moment. He is grieving the loss of his grandson, 15-year-old Jake Kedzlie, who died as the result of a freak accident in a league game at Sawtell, near Coffs Harbour, last weekend.
But he has bravely decided to fulfil commitments promoting and attending Sunday's game before attending Jake's funeral early next week.
Raudonikis played at the SCG many times, and he feels that today's players are mostly missing out on a magical experience because there are rarely any NRL games played there now. He says he hopes the players in Sunday's game are able to take it all in.
"It's a privilege to play on a ground like the SCG," Raudonikis said. "I was lucky enough to play a lot of club games there, as well as City-Country games, interstate games and Tests. There is something very special about that ground.
"It's like Lang Park, Wembley and the MCG – you can feel an atmosphere that you don't get at normal grounds. I'm really looking forward to going on Sunday, and I know that when I walk in I'll feel a lot of emotion.
"Being there is going to take me back to some of the great battles I played in at the SCG – Test matches, finals matches, a grand final, and some really great club games that were fought out during the season.
"I just hope the players on Sunday can feel the tradition, and the legend, coming out of that ground. I hope they get the chance to let it sink in, because they rarely get the chance these days. For a lot of those players, it will be the only time they ever play on the SCG."
Raudonikis recalled that his debut first-grade game for the Magpies was against the Dragons, at Lidcombe Oval in 1969.
"Noel Kelly was our captain-coach," Raudonikis said. "I'd played a couple of reserve-grade games and first grade had a couple of injuries, so Noel told me I was in. I called him Mr Kelly then. I said: 'Mr Kelly, I've only just come down from the country, I don't think I'm ready'.
"I was very nervous, but I decided that when I got the ball I was going to run straight and hard towards the goalposts, and into anyone wearing red and white. The Dragons had some great players, and it was quite an experience playing against them.
"Billy Smith was my opposition halfback, and I think Graeme Langlands and Johnny Raper were out there as well. Big John Wittenberg played up front for them. I played against a lot of Saints greats over the years, Craig Young and Rod Reddy included."
Raudonikis said the SCG, although the playing field was marked out the same as at rectangular grounds, felt bigger because of the vacant ground between it and the perimeter fence of the cricket field.
"Players have to be aware of that," he said. "It's a different feeling out there – you can get lost in all of it.
"It used to be rock hard, too, when I played on it. There were games on it every weekend then, and when you ran out there it was like concrete. If you got tackled and your head hit the ground, you got knocked out. I'm sure the ground is a lot better for the players now."
Raudonikis is hoping the Wests Tigers can improve on an indifferent start to the season that has left them in 12th place, with two wins from five games. But they are going to have to do it without their injured five-eighth, Benji Marshall.
Also, they will be hoping to exorcise their SCG demons after a 50-10 belting at the hands of the Rabbitohs the last time they played there in Round 10, 2010.
Meanwhile the Dragons have been rewarded for their recent consistency, with two consecutive wins taking a great deal of pressure off them after three straight losses to open their account in 2013.
In particular five-eighth Jamie Soward looks to have shrugged off a sluggish start and is growing in confidence. The fact Marshall won't be lining up opposite him this week should ensure he leaves his stamp again after setting up a try and making a line-break assist in their victory over the Knights last week.