TOMATO KINGS OF TUMBULGUM

Former Test rugby league halfback, Tom Raudonikis had the nickname ‘Tomato Tom’ during his time in Brisbane, but the tag just have easily could have been applied to former Queensland prop, Ray McCarron.

‘Tom Terrific’ got his Queensland nickname because of his wheeling and dealing with tomato growers, in his role as a merchant at the Brisbane Markets.
Raudonikis had moved to Queensland from Sydney in 1983 to coach Brisbane Brothers, and essentially made the state his home after that, despite retaining his allegiance to the Blues at Origin time.
Ray McCarron was a Tugun (Gold Coast) boy, who played rugby league over the border for Tweed Heads Seagulls, where his father, Col was a prominent official. ‘Big Macca’ also had stints with Wests in Brisbane and spent one year in the Auckland (New Zealand) club competition.
In 1971, he was appointed captain-coach of Murwillumbah Brothers in the then Group 18/Gold Coast competition, which featured 11 clubs.
It was my first year out of high school. I had captained Brothers to the 1970 under-18 premiership (under the coaching of Owen Maye from the Tweed Valley village of Tumbulgum), and also had played a number of first grade games under the guidance of coach, Allan Leslight, and veteran forward, Bob Pannowitz.
In 1971, under Ray McCarron’s coaching, we reached the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Burleigh Bears, in a match played at our home ground, the Murwillumbah Showgrounds.
In the off-season, Ray went to work in the tomatoes at Tumbulgum, with co-prop, Kerry Twohill whose family lived in that area.
The hard work got Ray into terrific shape – it’s fair to say he had let himself go a bit at Brothers – and he returned to Brisbane club football with Wests, and made the Queensland team for a tour of New Zealand, and then was in the starting side for the first match of the inter-state series against New South Wales at Lang Park.
I drove up from Murwillumbah to see ‘Big Macca’ play, and although NSW won convincingly, he was one of the few Maroons’ forwards able to dent the defence. The other player who I particularly wanted to see that night was Queensland fullback, Gary Dobrich, who was a product of Murwillumbah Brothers. Raudonikis was the NSW halfback.
Someone wrote a yarn about Big Macca, detailing his work in the tomato fields, and how it got him in shape. I can’t remember whether it was Rugby League Week or ‘The Courier-Mail’ that published the story. But it was a winner back at Murwillumbah, although a few blokes at the bar commented that they wished they had put him to work in the tomatoes, BEFORE he joined Brothers.

Ray went on to become a Life Member of the Burleigh Bears. His son, Andrew was signed by the Brisbane Broncos in the early 1990s. Ray passed away in 2011, aged 66. There was a huge turnout at his funeral at Nerang, including his tomato mate, Kerry Twohill.

1 Tom Raudonikis playing for Brisbane Brothers
2 Ray McCarron (right, foreground, watches his great mate, Kerry Twohill clown around outside Manly Leagues Club on an end-of-season trip to Sydney in 1971
3 Ray McCarron is the second player from the left in the middle row in the 1972 Queensland squad. Gary Dobrich is to his right, seated.
4 Andrew McCarron (second from left) trains with the Broncos. On his left are brothers, Darren and Brett Plowman. Behind him is Andrew Gee.
 

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