Rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis has died at the age of 70, following a long illness with cancer.
Raudonikis was a much-loved figure in the game as player and coach, and led NSW as captain in the inaugural State of Origin game in 1980.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys led the tributes to Raudonikis.
“Tommy was one of a kind. There will never be another Tommy Raudonikis,” V’landys said on Wednesday.
“Tommy was everything that makes rugby league the greatest game of all. He grew up in a migrant camp in Cowra and went on to become NSW’s first Origin captain.
“As a player there were none tougher. He was a brilliant halfback, what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in smarts and courage to become one of the best players of his era.”
Raudonikis had fought testicular cancer after having a quadruple heart operation. Then he was diagnosed with throat cancer.
He was considered one of rugby league’s great characters, and was a tough halfback for Wests and Newtown. He played 24 matches for NSW and 20 Tests for Australia.
Raudonikis’ last appearance for the Blues was as captain in that inaugural State of Origin match. But he is arguably best remembered for the “cattle dog” cry he coined as NSW coach in 1997 – a series it won.
“Tommy was renowned for the ‘cattle dog’ call, and the cattle dog call was synonymous with the stink,” Newcastle Knights legend Tony Butterfield told the club’s podcast in November 2020.
“If the call goes up from the bench that cattle dog’s on, you’ve got to respond.
“As we’re packing a scrum, the call comes out that cattle dog’s on.”
Born in Bathurst in 1950, Raudonikis was the son of an immigrant Lithuanian father and a Swiss mother.
In 1969 he moved to Sydney and played the first of 201 games with Western Suburbs in the Sydney first division.
He played 239 first grade games, before playing a final year as captain-coach of Brisbane rugby league side Brothers.
He captained the Jets in the 1981 grand final and coached NSW to a State of Origin series win.
Raudonikis was voted the league’s best and fairest for 1972 and awarded the Rothman’s Medal.
In 2004 he was named in Western Suburbs’ team of the century and was inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame in 2008.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his condolences to the Raudonikis family.
“All of those who love their rugby league will certainly know about Tommy Raudonikis – he was one of game’s biggest characters and will be sadly missed in the rugby league family and sincere condolences to his family and to the rugby league family as well,” he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also offered condolences.
“In a blue jersey, Tommy Raudonikis never gave the Queensland Maroons an inch but we loved his passion and his commitment, and we welcomed him when he made his home in Queensland,” she wrote on Twitter.
“My condolences to his family at this sad time.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also paid tribute, describing Raudonikis as a champion on the field … and a champion every day off the field”.