Former Ipswich Jets coach Tommy Raudonikis left a lasting impression on his players. Picture: QT archives
Former Ipswich Jets coach Tommy Raudonikis left a lasting impression on his players. Picture: QT archives

Why the one and only Tommy loved Ipswich so much

MICHAEL NUNN

THE rugby league landscape has changed forever and we've lost a great rugby league man.

You don't even need to say Raudonikis. You just say Tommy and everyone knows who you're talking about.

Tommy had a glorious career including 29 Tests, 21 interstate games, one Origin match and two Kangaroo tours. He captained Australia in two Tests, along with the Wests Magpies, Newtown and Brothers in Brisbane. He coached Brothers, Ipswich and Norths in Brisbane.

If my phone rang and I forgot to look at the screen before picking up I could always pick the gravely voice without checking the caller.

The unmistakeable voice and laugh of Tommy Raudonikis.

I knew then whatever I was going to do for the next 30 minutes probably wasn't going to happen because Tommy would be telling me stories and making me laugh.

Did I tell you about the time on the 1978 Kangaroo Tour Bozo and I drank all day and came back and wrestled Steve Rogers and Les Boyd in our underwear?

No Tommy. I'd laugh but I want to hear it more than you can imagine.

Tommy would be off again on a tangent.

Is it true you took a shovel to the rooms at Wests I'd laugh?

"Yep. I don't know why that shovel was there but at half time things were going badly so I smashed all the windows.

"Magpies wanted me to pay for it but I said 'no way'."

I'd giggle like a schoolboy hearing stories I shouldn't be hearing.

TOMMY'S LEGACY: Why Jets coach made such an impression

I text Tommy one afternoon. I had sat down and switched on the TV to see a Manly player punching holes in Tommy. I think even a few headbutts may have gone in.

Tommy replied 'I am watching too - what a great way to spend a Saturday a few headbutts never hurt anyone'.

I'd laugh and keep watching, wondering if headbutts do hurt.

Tommy Raudonikis. Picture: Adam Yip
Tommy Raudonikis. Picture: Adam Yip

One message always remained the same no matter where our interview or chat took us. Tommy's loyalty and love of Ipswich.

"Ipswich people took me in, they're my kind of people and I think they appreciate that I am the same as them - working class and honest,'' he said.

"We had some great times. I used to take the boys to the pub and we would have great nights just being together."

Tommy coached the Jets from 1985 for four years, taking the Jets to the club's first grand final in 1988 against Valleys.

Tommy never lost the disappointment of not getting the Jets over the line that day at Lang Park.

"If Glenn Haggath plays we win that game," Tommy would always say to me.

Haggath would follow Tommy from Brothers to Ipswich. They shared a special bond that endures.

"I am unbelievably sad today, I can't believe he's gone," Haggath said, remembering his coach and mentor.

"I can't explain him, Tommy is one of a kind. He could get away with things that if you or I tried it we would be out on our ear.

"He could swear in front of your grandma and she'd laugh and hug him. He was just special and different.

"You'd do anything for him, absolutely anything because you loved him and he loved you."

"He made you feel special, you were one of Tommy's players."

The 1987 Ipswich Jets A Grade side, including Kerrod Walters and Allan Langer, coached by legend Tommy Raudonikis
The 1987 Ipswich Jets A Grade side, including Kerrod Walters and Allan Langer, coached by legend Tommy Raudonikis

The Walters family has a famous connection to Tommy. Andrew, Brett, Kevvie and Kerrod were all coached by Tommy at the Jets.

"Two things stand out for me that will stay with me forever. Tommy was playing for Laidley and must have been nearly 40," Kevvie Walters recalled.

"Kerrod and I were 17 and just young but Swifts was playing Laidley in a trial game, we were going to get to play against Tommy

"I remember at the scrum looking at his red, fiery face and just being in awe of him.

"He didn't go easy on us but he was fair. He'd give you a whack and then stand at marker smiling and give you a wink.

"Tommy took the time to belt me that's my memory.

"Then Tommy came to our house at Merton Street to sign Kerrod and myself to the Jets.

"Tommy wants us to play for his team. Wow."

Brett Walters love Tommy's competitive nature.

"One of the most competitive but likeable characters of the game, everyone identified with him. That's his lasting legacy,'' Brett said.

Kerrod Walters was drawn to Tommy.

"Players loved him and would do anything he asked,'' he said.

Andrew Walters remembered a bus trip home laughing.

"We got beaten in Bundaberg and the whole bus trip home Tommy didn't say a word sat up the back filthy on us for losing," Andrew remembered.

"We stopped the bus for Tommy to get off and he gets to the door and turns around, and shouted some not very nice things at us, but said I will see you Tuesday at training."

Former Jet Rob Bichel was handed a debut by Tommy and never forgot what impressed him.

"I first came across Tommy when I was ball boy for Laidley and he coached the mighty Lions," Bichel recalled.

"Then he gave me my debut in first grade. I had a fight in Reserve Grade with Waverley Stanley. He stood on Brian Hegarty's hand and I wasn't sure if it was an accident.

"I was sent to the sin bin and Tommy came and saw me in the bin and asked what was that all about. I explained I was sticking up for Brian.

"He threw me a jumper and said you can play for me today.

"After the game he came and gave me a hug and said you won't be playing Reserve Grade anymore."

Tommy would always end our chats the same way.

Can you make sure you write how much I love Ipswich and the people I will be grateful forever for what they did for me.

Dear People of Ipswich,

Tommy loved you.

From Tommy.



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