by Steve Ricketts.
Tom Raudonikis took the wheel of his car, after a long lunch at the Breakfast Creek Hotel, and invited the passengers to help themselves to a beer, from his back seat ‘bar’.
The passengers were Dennis Watt and yours truly, work-mates at the ‘Telegraph’, Brisbane’s afternoon newspaper.
Along with our sports editor, John ‘Morto’ Morton, we had taken ‘Tom Terrific’ to ‘The Creek’ for lunch, to celebrate the fact he would be one of our columnists, after he had taken on the job as captain-coach of Brisbane Brothers, following a distinguished 14-year Sydney playing career.
Dennis, who is now chairman of the Gold Coast Titans, was to be Tommy’s ghost writer.
The other guest at the Creek lunch was Aussie rules legend, Alex Jesaulenko, a former rugby union and league player, who also was to be a columnist, after his move to Queensland – Noosa, I think – to live.
Tom invited ‘Morto’, Dennis and I to his residence at Lutwyche for a couple more ales. When we left the pub car park, it was then Tom offered us a ‘traveller’. Dennis and I looked at each other, wondering where in hell Tommy had set-up his bar. We looked down on the floor, and there were several stubbies (warm, I might add) rolling around.
When Tommy coached at Laidley in the Lockyer Valley, he said it was always a six-stubbie trip home.
The first time I saw Tom play live, for his country, was the Second Test between Australia and New Zealand at Lang Park in Brisbane on July 15, 1972, with the Kangaroos winning 31-7. Tommy, who had made his Test debut in the first match in Sydney, scored a try.
The next time I saw him in action in the green and gold, was the First Test against Great Britain at Lang Park on June 15, 1974 when Tommy had a great duel with Featherstone Rovers’ star, Steve Nash. I saw him again at Lang Park in 1977 and ’79, playing for Australia against the British, but by the time I became a fulltime league writer, in 1981, Tommy had been usurped at Test level by Steve Mortimer.
All-up, Tom played 29 Tests, 14 against Great Britain; seven against New Zealand; six against France, and one each against Wales and England. He toured Britain and France with the 1973 and 1978 Kangaroos and toured New Zealand in 1971 and 1980. He also played in the 1972 World Cup in France, and the 1975 World Series, which was played in both hemispheres.
He made his Sydney first grade debut for Wests’ Magpies in 1969, switching to Newtown in 1980. In 198I he played in his only grand final – Newtown’s 20-11 loss to Parramatta.
When Raudonikis took over the Brothers’ job in 1983, succeeding Wayne Bennett, I was sent out to training at Corbett Park, Grange to write a feature about life under Tommy. It meant I had to train with the squad, which, at age 30, I was able to do, but I felt a bit of a goose.
Tommy made me feel welcome, and from that time onwards, he was always affable, helpful, cheerful and (often) hilarious, when I met him or interviewed him, either face-to-face, or over the phone.
Tommy didn’t care about controversy.
When North Queensland Cowboys coach, Graham Lowe picked 16-year-old Josh Hannay for his first-grade debut against Tommy’s Western Suburbs (Sydney) in 1996, I rang Tom for a quote, knowing full well he would say that the Magpies would bash the kid.
Tommy didn’t let me down. “There’ll be no favours from us,” he said. “We’ll give it to him from the word go. I pity the poor bloke.”
Undoubtedly the best quote I got from Tommy concerned ‘The King’, Wally Lewis, after Wally had been involved in an altercation with a fan at North Ipswich Reserve. QRL chairman, Ron McAuliffe, who believed Wally could do no wrong, called for a protective wire race to be built at the Reserve, for the safety of visiting teams.
Tommy said the only player the Ipswich fans had a problem with, was Wally, and rather than build an expensive race from the dressing rooms down to the field, quite a distance at the Reserve, they should just wheel Wally out in the cage.
The back page headline in the ‘Telegraph’ that day, was “Put Wally in a Cage”.
While I don’t claim to have ‘discovered’ Allan Langer – other reporters had written up the little blonde dynamo from Ipswich before me – I was the first to address the issue of whether he was too small for representative football. Certainly, Queensland coach, Wayne Bennett thought he was.
But Tom was adamant ‘Alfie’ could handle the pressure of playing at the highest level, and his support for the then 20-year-old, helped sway the Queensland selectors, when they were choosing between Langer and Laurie Spina, to replace Mark Murray, who had been forced into premature retirement by an eye injury.
Famed broadcaster, John McCoy related a story on Radio TAB, the day after Tommy’s passing, about the Brothers’ presentation night at their Grange Leagues Club in 1984, with Tommy having been told his services were not required in 1985.
John was the MC, so his recollection is clear and concise.
“Tommy, in his farewell speech, had a dig at the committee, and in particular president, Frank Melit,” McCoy said. “Looking directly at Melit, Tommy concluded his speech with ‘Et tu, Brute’, the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
“I asked Tommy where he got that from, and he revealed he had phoned his great mate, Roy Masters for advice,” John said. “I asked Tom if he knew what it meant, and he said he didn’t have a clue, but it seemed to have the right effect.” (Melit stormed out of the auditorium).
I had got into trouble with Melit earlier in the year, as the result of a story I wrote, following Brothers’ spiteful Winfield State League match against Toowoomba at Dalby. Brothers’ legend, Johnny Gleeson, a Toowoomba selector at that time, said he was shocked at Brothers’ tactics, and labelled them ‘thugs’, under Tommy’s coaching.
The ‘Telegraph’ poster simply said ‘Brothers Thugs’ with the poster on display in the Leagues Club foyer the next day, when Melit arrived for a meeting. (They sold papers at the front counter).
Melit banned me from the Brothers’ dressing rooms for the season, but Tommy, with the help of his great mate, strapper, Jimmy Johnson, allowed me in the rooms, as long as Melit wasn’t around.
My late mother, Lola Mary, loved Tommy, even though she abhorred bad language. Somehow or other, Tommy could get away with it in mixed company (not all the time, I might add), and Mum still spoke with great affection about Tommy, even after being in earshot of him in the Frank Burke Stand at Lang Park.
My mother, a lifelong South Sydney fan, said her all-time favourite game – Sydney or Brisbane – was Brothers’ amazing, round 17 win over Redcliffe in 1984. Brothers, a man down, staged an incredible turnaround to beat the Dolphins 40-36 at Lang Park, after trailing 30-12 at halftime. Glen Haggath, one of Tommy’s favourite players, had been sent off after 40 seconds.
Mum remained a New South Wales fan until the day she died, even though she had lived in Queensland since 1975. You can imagine her joy on the terraces at Lang Park, when, in 1977, Tom came off the bench and turned things around for the Blues, after Queensland had established a big lead, with halfback, John Salter scoring a try on debut.
Salter was kneed in the back as he scored and was replaced by Greg Oliphant. NSW coach, Terry Fearnley replaced debutant Blues’ halfback, Steve Mortimer with Raudonikis, who set about starting fights, to distract the Maroons from the task at hand.
In 1989, Tom was handed his first representative coaching role – in charge of the Combined Brisbane side, to contest the (knock-out) Panasonic Cup competition. I was assigned to cover their campaign for ‘The Courier-Mail’, and travelled to Papua New Guinea, where Brisbane beat Port Moresby 21-12. Just 48 hours later, Brisbane beat New South Wales Country 9-2 at Tweed Heads with Raudonikis describing it as one of the most courageous wins he had ever seen.
Five days later, Brisbane were desperately unlucky not to beat Sydney club, St George at Parramatta Stadium, with Saints’ coach, Craig Young admitting his team had got out of jail, thanks to a late try to former Brisbane Brothers’ centre, Mark Coyne.
Brisbane halfback, Kevin Langer, old brother of Allan, was man of the match, with Raudonikis finding it hard to understand why his old club, Wests’ Magpies had not offered Langer a contract, after he trialled in the off-season.
The Brisbane Broncos went on to win the Panasonic Cup that year, their first piece of silverware.
I loved Tommy as player. Many people have correctly pointed out that he wasn’t one of the most skilful players. In fact, his pass (for a halfback) was ordinary, especially compared with the spiral, straight-as-an-arrow passes of the NRL today.
But he was a rock-solid defender (sometimes overstepping the mark); had a good footy brain, and could put blokes through gaps with short passes (no need for a spiral), and could find his own way through the defence with sheer determination, something many of today’s halfbacks would be incapable of doing.
The last time I saw him was September 19, 2020, when he turned up for the Jimmy Johnson Memorial Day at Brothers’ ground, Gibson Park, Stafford in Brisbane. He looked good, but found it hard to talk, given his battles with cancer.
He had presented the jerseys to the senior players before their game, and I’m sure that moment will be something they will cherish forever, just as I always cherish my dealings with the man appropriately tagged ‘Tom Terrific’.
Tom Raudonikis: Born, Bathurst, April 13, 1950. Died, Gold Coast, April 7, 2021.
1 Tom Raudonikis scores a try for Australia against Widnes, at Naughton Park, in 1973, beating Mick Adams to the line. Tim Pickup and Graeme Langlands are the teammates in support
2 Playing for Newtown, Tom Raudonikis has a friendly chat with referee, Barry Goldsworthy
3 Tom Raudonikis and Kiwi, Mark Broadhurst come to grips
4 Tom Raudonikis as New South Wales coach.