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League legend Tommy Raudonikis passes away at 70

Rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis has passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Raudonikis died on Wednesday morning aged 70, having led one of the most colourful lives the game has seen.

The former Western Suburbs and Newtown halfback represented Australia in 29 Tests and World Cup matches, and NSW on 24 occasions.

His last appearance for the Blues saw him lead them in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980, but he is arguably best remembered for the "cattle dog" cry he coined as NSW coach in 1997.

The same take no prisoners approach gave the game one of its most enduring images – he and Magpies teammates slapping each other pre-game at the height of the famous Fibros v Silvertails rivalry with Manly.

"Tommy was one of a kind. There will never be another Tommy Raudonikis," ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said.

Raudonikis darts over from the scrum

"Tommy was everything that makes rugby league the greatest game of all.

"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 was the poster boy for rugby league's working-class roots, though his renowned toughness was mixed with understated pace and creativity that made him one of the best halfbacks of his era.

The son of migrant parents who arrived in Australia in 1950, Raudonikis grew up in an immigration camp before catching the eye of Magpies legend Arthur Summons while serving as an air force mechanic.

Tommy Raudonikis playing for Newtown.
Tommy Raudonikis playing for Newtown. ©NRL Photos

In concert with the likes of Les Boyd and Dallas Donnelly under the coaching of Roy Masters, Raudonikis helped turn Western Suburbs from premiership also-rans to contenders before shifting to Newtown in 1980.

He did the same for the Jets, producing one of his finest performances in their 1981 grand final loss to Parramatta.

In total, Raudonikis toured with the Kangaroos twice in 1973 and 1978 and played in four Ashes series, always relishing battles with opposing halfbacks like Greg Oliphant and Steve Mortimer most, keeping his rivals out of representative sides for the best part of a decade.

Upon hanging up the boots after 238 premiership appearances for Wests and Newtown, Raudonikis coached on at Brisbane Norths and Ipswich, where youngsters Allan Langer and Kevin Walters came under his tutelage.

He returned to coach the Magpies once more in 1995 and helped bring the club back into finals contention again, earning himself the NSW coaching gig for two series as a result.

In 1997 the "cattle dog" cry came to the fore, prompting the Blues plans for an all-in brawl to begin.

When his beloved Western Suburbs merged with Balmain in 1999, Raudonikis stepped back from coaching once and for all.

League legend Tommy Raudonikis.
League legend Tommy Raudonikis. ©NRL Photos

But his playing achievements were acknowledged when he was named in the Magpies and Wests Tigers respective teams of the century, as well as the NRL Hall of Fame in 2008.

"There are few icons in the history of rugby league that will stand as tall as Tommy Raudonikis," Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis said on Wednesday morning.

"Tommy wore the black and white with fervour and passion like no other and is revered for his contribution to our club, our state and our country.

"Tommy will always be remembered as a true legend and unequivocally crucial part of the fabric of Western Suburbs and, in turn, Wests Tigers, and his legacy in the game will certainly live on in the DNA of our club."

When Raudonikis retired for good it was ironically to Queensland, where he was never far from the public eye come Origin time.

His health battles with several bouts of cancer, as well as undergoing open-heart surgery, were waged with the same tenacity he approached each game with.

Raudonikis during his playing days for Western Suburbs.
Raudonikis during his playing days for Western Suburbs. ©NRL Photos

Throughout it all Raudonikis was always ready to still spruik the greatest code of all, with a fiery Origin interview becoming an annual event throughout his retirement.

"Few did more to promote our game than Tommy, whether it was at a luncheon on television or radio, Tommy was always there to talk up the game he loved," V'landys said.

"He made people laugh as one of the game’s great larrikins and epitomised the passion and tribalism that is unique to rugby league.

"On behalf of the entire rugby league community, I send my deepest condolences to Tommy’s family and friends."

Tommy Raudonikis Hall of Fame profile

Fox League will screen Remembering Tommy Raudonikis at 2pm today. Fox League Channel 502.

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