‘God help God’: Footy’s ultimate scallywag farewelled
God help God. With these three words, long-serving Newtown Jets official Terry Rowney put the big fella on notice about welcoming to heaven the ultimate footy scallywag, Tommy Raudonikis.
The cheeky comment brought laughter from a 500-strong gathering sitting in the famous SCG Members Pavilion on Monday during a memorial service for the legendary Wests and Newtown halfback and rascal, who died on April 7.
It was an eclectic congregation, ranging from millionaires in suits and Cartier sunglasses to knockabouts wearing thongs, stubbies and Wests Magpies jumpers with VICTA splashed across the front - Tommy's kind of people.
As much factional and political fighting in footy can be merciless, the rugby league family - whether you're a Silvertail or a Fibro - come together in grief. And they mingled and united while paying tribute to their working-class hero.
There was a blind man in a Wests jacket carrying a white cane last seen at the Members Bar ready for a beer to toast Tommy. And what about the scruffy young fella sporting a mullet? They all adored Tom Terrific.
Wearing swanky suits and ties, the entire Wests Tigers squad attended. It was a lovely touch.
Punters wore all team colours as a mark of respect. There were Wests Magpies, Wests Tigers, Newtown, St George Illawarra, Canberra, Canterbury and Sydney Roosters jumpers among the gathering. Even Canberra's mascot, Victor the Viking, wearing his horned helmet, turned up for the 60-minute service.
It was a who's who of rugby league in attendance, including Mal Meninga, Gavin Miller, Steve Roach, Ben Elias, Paul Sironen, Garry Jack, Peter Wynn, Geoff Toovey, Brad Fittler, Darrell Bampton, Ian Schubert, Wayne Pearce, John Peard, Chris Anderson, Wayne Bennett, Peter Sterling, Paul Langmack and Mark Carroll.
Other dignitaries included ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, former NRL CEO David Gallop, NSWRL chief executive David Trodden, former News Corp chairman and CEO John Hartigan, former Wests CEO Steve Noyce along with NSW Ministers Geoff Lee, Dominic Perrottet, Stuart Ayres and John Barilaro.
The stage included a Wests jumper, the State of Origin shield, bouquet of flowers and a photo of an exhausted Raudonikis after playing a Test for Australia.
"He was one of the most unique players to have ever played at Newtown," Rowney said. "Our futures are now going to be different. Tommy is like your Mum and Dad - you think they're going to go forever. We have lost a very special person - a larrikin who stood for someone.
"When it was announced he would play for Newtown in 1979, it was impossible to imagine. It was a bombshell, unbelievable. Like a nuclear explosion.
"With Tommy, it was: 'Do what I do and follow me boys, we're all-in.' He used to say: 'We're here to win, not to make up the numbers.' He taught us how to win, losing wasn't in his DNA. He would do anything on the field to win.
"He brought to Newtown a fierce competitive drive, the likes of which we have never seen. Oh my God, what a player. He would drive players to unbelievable heights.
"If he spoke to the Prime Minister, he paid attention. If he spoke to some battler, he paid attention. If he spoke to a kid, he paid attention. And he was very generous.
"Tommy, you're truly a one-off. You'll be up there with you footy mates in heaven. God help God."
There were highlights of Raudonikis' wonderful career shown on the SCG screens with further video tributes from Schubert, Roy Masters, John Quayle and Steve Mortimer. MC Ray Warren led the tributes, followed by Rowney, former Magpies teammate John 'Joe Cool' Dorahy and Wests patriarch Ricky Wayde.
"He was the most competitive player to ever play the game," Warren said.
Raudonikis, who played first grade for Wests and Newtown between 1969 and 1983, died after a long battle with cancer.
"I can see him up there talking with Ned (Noel Kelly), talking with Keith Holman and talking to Dallas (John Donnelly) about where they're at and what they're going to do about making Lidcombe Oval the place to be in heaven," Dorahy said.
"Tommy was an inspirational captain and fantastic halfback. He was a rugby league legend. He was a larger than life character but, first and foremost, he was a Magpie, a Newtown Jet, a NSW Blue and he was an Aussie Kangaroo.
"He was a true competitor but also a mentor to many, which you don't hear too often. Yes, he was a fair dinkum Aussie larrikin, yes, he was a working-class man but he was also a bloody good mate.
"He was a great friend who cared about you, but also for rugby league. Tommy was the rugby league fire of the era. You need someone like Tommy in every football team to take you forward. That will to win, follow me. It drove the team to winning results.
"I can recall Tommy calling out in several tough games: "Come with me, let's belt them."
V'landys added: "If you look up the Macquarie Dictionary and look up selflessness, that was Tom."
Western Suburbs patriarch Rick Wayde read a message from Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates, which said in part: "We all have our heroes, and Tommy was mine. He was Western Suburbs' greatest warrior and that's how I will always remember my hero."
Wayde added: "How do you pick a favourite story about Tommy when there are so many."
Masters described the outpouring for his mate Raudonikis as "perhaps the greatest since Bradman." The old Wests Magpies theme song rang out around the SCG as the memorial concluded.
The last word went to Tommy, NSW's first captain back in 1980, through an interview conducted several years ago.
"I always hated Queensland," he said.
Amen to that Tommy. And farewell.
TOMMY'S PARTNER: 'HOW WILL I GO ON?'
The partner of rugby league legend Tom Raudonikis says she will "miss him dearly" and then asked "how am I going to get on without him."
Trish Brown spoke passionately about Raudonikis after a moving memorial service at the SCG on Monday morning.
"I'm very proud of him. I'm sorry he's not with us. He had no enemies. He had time for everybody, whether it was a little kid in the street or the Prime Minister," she said.
"(The tributes) were marvellous, they were wonderful, and that was Tom. He loved everyone, he was very passionate. He loved his family and loved his grandchildren and everyone loved him.
"It's tough and it's going to be tough for a while because he was like my little shadow when he was sick.
"I'm going to miss him dearly. I don't know how I'm going to get on without him but we have to plug on, don't we?
"And I can't be selfish by trying to keep him alive just for (me) - he was very sick, you know, poor bugger."
Originally published as 'God help God': Footy's ultimate scallywag farewelled