Legend. Larrikin. Leader.
Those three words were used repeatedly to describe Tom Raudonikis by friends, former team-mates and opponents, administrators and fans as they gathered at the SCG to celebrate his life.
From ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and deputy NSW premier John Barilaro to the entire Wests Tigers squad and supporters in the Wests Magpies and Newtown Jets jerseys, the memorial service attracted people from all walks of life – as Raudonikis did before succumbing to cancer on April 7, aged 70.
His former Wests coach and great mate Roy Masters declared the outpouring of emotion for Raudonikis as “perhaps the greatest since Bradman” in a video tribute from hospital in Melbourne, where he is recovering from knee surgery.
V'landys, long-time Wests official Rick Wayde, Newtown Jets director Terry Rowney and Raudonikis’s former Magpies teammate John Dorahy delivered eulogies, while Channel Nine's Ray Warren MC’d the service.
They spoke of his common touch, toughness, selflessness and an unrivalled competitiveness that helped lift Newtown from wooden spoons in 1976, 1977 and 1978 to a grand final appearance in 1981.
Raudonikis was also credited for his influence on Newtown’s survival outside the top tier and helping to bring the game together after the Super League war.
Notably, Super League architect John Ribot and former ARL CEO John Quayle both paid tribute to Raudonikis, along with Steve Mortimer, Ian Schubert and Australian Olympic Committee boss John Coates.
75. Tom Raudonikis - Hall of Fame
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, former NRL chief executive David Gallop and ex-ARL boss Geoff Carr were among those in attendance, along with NSWRL CEO David Trodden and former Wests Tigers CEO Steve Noyce
Dorahy, Mortimer, Schubert, Wayne Pearce, Steve Roach, Ben Elias, Garry Jack, Paul Sironen, Peter Sterling and Peter Wynn were some of the rugby league greats who mingled with fans wearing jerseys of almost every Sydney club, as well as Canberra
Others included Wayne Bennett, Mal Meninga, Chris Anderson, John Peard, Paul Langmack, Darrell Bampton, Brad Fittler, Mark Carroll, Geoff Toovey and Paul McGregor.
Raudonikis’s partner Trish Brown and other family members, including son Lincoln and daughter Corryn, flew from the Gold Coast to attend the service.
“I am very proud of him and sorry he is not with us,” Brown told NRL.com. “Tom loved everybody and he was passionate. He loved his family, loved his grandchildren and everyone loved him. He had no enemies.
“He had time for everybody, whether it was a little kid in the street or the Prime Minister.
“I don’t know how I am going to get on without him but we have to plug on. He was very sick, the poor bugger.
“He will live on in memories for a long time to come and the messages, flowers and everything I have received has just been amazing.”
Numerous stories about Raudonikis’s on and off-field exploits were exchanged but there was also praise for the leadership he provided to every club and team he was involved with.
Raudonikis darts over from the scrum
“Tommy was an inspirational captain and a fantastic halfback. He was a true competitor but he was also a mentor to many, which you don’t hear about too often,” Dorahy said.
“He was the leader of the first grade side but he was also a leader within the club. He would get around and talk to players and encourage them or kick them up the backside when it was needed.
“I can recall Tommy calling me out in several tough games - ‘come with me, we will belt him when he gets the ball’. He would say follow me, get up here. It gave Wests Magpies a winning edge and alongside Roy Masters, he drove the team to winning results.
“Tommy was the most competitive rugby league player I have come across in my times. For toughness, resilience and competitive nature, Tommy far out-weighed anyone else in the game.
“Tommy was an inspiration to many players right though his playing days but also into his coaching days at the Magpies.
“In his time as a coach of NSW, when the perceived [Super League] takeover was happening, Tommy coached the successful 1997 team which helped, in my opinion, to unite rugby league.”
Dorahy admitted he had been shocked when Raudonikis left the Magpies in 1980 to join Newtown but Rowney said that Jets benefactor John Singleton and coach Warren Ryan had targeted him for his leadership.
“They wanted a good player but more importantly they wanted a leader - a person who leads from the front and says ‘do what I do and follow me boys, we’re all in’,” Rowney said.
“For a battling club that had run last in 1976 to 1978, the arrival of Tommy was just impossible to imagine. Myself and a lot of other people finally had a team to follow that could win games.
“He was a very special person; a larrikin who stood for something, a kid from Cowra who made a difference to people – many of whom he didn’t actually meet.
“His position was that ‘we are not here to make up the numbers, we are going to have a real go and shoot for the stars’.
“The only reason Newtown survived was because of people like [Newtown stalwart] Col Murphy, Singo and Tommy. We wouldn’t give up and that is what he taught us.”
Wayde, who led the campaign to prevent Wests being expelled from the NSWRL competition in 1983 with Newtown, said Raudonikis had earned the Australian No.7 jersey while playing for Magpies teams that ran last and second last in 1970 and 1971.
He also spoke about Raudonikis’s role in trying to save the club when as coach from 1995 to 1999 he would regularly ride around Campbelltown on the back of a ute with a loudhailer to call for fans to attend home games.
V’landys, who thanked the NSW Government for the public memorial service but told Barilarlo and other MPs in attendance that Raudonikis deserved a state funeral, described him as “the definition of selflessness”.
“It wasn’t part of his DNA,” V’landys said. “He would try his hardest for his mates, he would try his hardest for his state and his country. He didn’t care about his wellbeing, he just cared for his mates and not letting anyone down.
“A story that signifies that selflessness is when he was diagnosed with cancer and getting treated for chemotherapy, there was a young lady who was 29 with a couple of children.
“Tommy didn’t care for himself, he didn’t care. His whole heart was for that young lady with breast cancer and what the kids were going to do without their mother, and that was his focus.
“Today it is my honour to speak on behalf of the fans and say ‘Tommy, thank you for showing us what selflessness is’.”