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Broncos coach Kevin Walters has joined the likes of Nathan Cleary, Royce Simmons and others in honouring the great Tommy Raudonikis.

Raudonikis, who died on Wednesday morning, was remembered by Walters as the man who first showed faith in him.

Speaking on Wednesday, Walters revealed that it was Raudonikis who first signed him to join the elite Brisbane competition before he and his brother Kerrod went on to become Origin and Test stars with the Broncos.

"Tommy had a big influence over my career, particularly early on as a player," Walters said.

"One of my fondest memories, even to now, is the day Tommy Raudonikis knocked on our family home and asked myself and my brother Kerrod to come and play for the Ipswich Jets.

"He was one of my favourite players growing up and I also got the opportunity to play against Tom as well in the Ipswich competition.

"He was about 42 or 43 years of age and myself and Kerrod were coming through the ranks in Ipswich and it was quite an experience I can tell you.

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"He was tough everywhere, he was tough off the field as well but in a kind way. You knew where you stood with Tommy, both on the field and off the field.

"He was a great leader of men. He showed that in his playing career and also in his coaching days. It’s a very sad day for everyone in our game, we lost one of our greats."

Tommy Raudonikis and Nathan Cleary in 2018.
Tommy Raudonikis and Nathan Cleary in 2018. ©

Raudonikis' influence also carries weight with the playing stars of today.

Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary on Wednesday shared his own story of when the pair crossed paths in 2018.

"I had my [debut Origin] jersey presented by him in 2018 and that's something that I can definitely keep close to my heart now," Cleary said.

"I can't remember [exactly what he said] but just to play tough and to go out there and do your thing.

"The biggest thing for him is he liked players who are tough so it's something I'll always keep in mind. I'll try and make him proud.

"Everyone that knew Tommy knows that he's an absolute legend and no one has a bad word to say about him.

"He's one of the characters of the game and he was super tough as well when he played. It's a sad day but everyone has super fond memories of him."

Penrith great Royce Simmons, who lived not far from Raudonikis in the vicinity of the inland NSW town of Cowra for a brief period, said Tommy's knack of making everyone around him laugh was as good a trait as one could hope for.

"He played with so much passion and desire. I admired him in those things but the last thing and probably the most important was he made you laugh," Simmons said.

"He was a funny man so you got a lot of enjoyment from him. If you went to a function and sat down to have a beer with him you'd walk away laughing.

"You walked away feeling better. As my old dad used to say, 'anyone who makes you laugh should never die' and that's nailed Tommy, I reckon."

Cronulla Sharks prop Aaron Woods said his dealings with Raudonikis were always memorable.

"What a massive loss for the game. Along with big Artie Beetson, I think they created the Origin arena. I’m a bit shocked at the moment but my heart goes out to Tommy’s family. It’s quite shattering at the moment to hear that," he said.

Raudonikis remembers the first ever State of Origin

"I’m sure the whole rugby league community will get behind them and help the family out through this tough time.

"He came in quite a fair bit [at the Wests Tigers], obviously being with the Maggies - he played and was the coach there too. And then I had a bit to do with him in the Origin scene, he’d pop in and out. 

"He was always a good character to have around the group. He was a funny bloke and told you what he was thinking. There was no bullshit as he’d say when he tells you something.

"He was always a funny bugger to have around the group. It’s quite a sad day for rugby league."


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