'Tommy Raudonikis was on the front of my scrapbook' says Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart addresses his NSW Blues troops in 2005. Picture: Getty
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart addresses his NSW Blues troops in 2005. Picture: Getty

Think Tommy Raudonikis and think toughness. Determination. Competitiveness. Passion. Pride in the jersey. An unwavering will to win. A man you would stand beside in the trenches.

Sound familiar?

As Raudonikis carved out a reputation in the 1970s as one of the toughest small men in rugby league history, an impressionable young halfback from Queanbeyan was enamoured with the Western Suburbs number seven.

His name was Ricky Stuart. And he was learning what it meant to be tough. Determined. Competitive. Passionate. And above all, learning how to win.

"Me and my brother, we had scrapbooks, on the front of my brother's scrapbook was Arthur Beetson and on the front of my scrapbook was Bob Fulton and Tom Raudonikis," Stuart said a day after Raudonikis lost his long battle with cancer.

"I looked up to both people as role models, of the way they played. I just loved his fierceness in the competition, he was a very competitive player and a very competitive person.

"It was a great line that Johnny Lewis had told me once and I've always remembered it. Warren Ryan taught them how to play football, Tommy Raudonikis taught them how to win."

Rugby league hard man Tommy Raudonikis lost his long battle with cancer on Wednesday morning. Picture: Getty

Rugby league hard man Tommy Raudonikis lost his long battle with cancer on Wednesday morning. Picture: Getty

Raudonikis played 239 top-grade matches in the NSWRL over a span of 14 years.

He also managed 24 appearances for NSW and a further 20 Tests for Australia, and went on to coach the Blues for two State of Origin series in 1997 and 1998.

Stuart managed 243 top-grade games himself, and played 14 times for his state and on nine occasions for his country.

When Stuart took over the coaching reins at NSW in 2005, one of his first orders of business was to bring Raudonikis into the fold.

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"I had Tommy in camps, just to sit there and be in his company was a great pleasure," Stuart said.

"Every story he told was of great insight into either the game or the recollection of memories after games and when he was with his mates, all the boys. Players were attracted to Tommy, he sucked them in by having that wonderful character and personality.

"You do take traits away from different people. I just loved his attitude towards winning, I loved his competitiveness.

"One thing I really did love is the fact he loves a beer after a game, and to be with his mates. We're hearing a lot about those stories, but I don't want them to overshadow what a great player he was either."

Stuart took over the Blues again in 2011 and 2012, during which time he linked back up with Paul Gallen who he'd coached for four seasons at the Cronulla Sharks.

He was another cut from the Raudonikis mould.

Gallen also played 24 times for NSW, and like Raudonikis he never took a backward step, especially when there was a Queensland jumper in front of him.

Former NSW Blues captain Paul Gallen has fond memories of Tommy Raudonikis. Picture: Getty

Former NSW Blues captain Paul Gallen has fond memories of Tommy Raudonikis. Picture: Getty

Especially after Raudonikis had been in to talk to the troops.

"It was tough during an eight-year period of dominance from Queensland, he'd come into camp and give it to us," Gallen said.

"He had the old school mentality where he wanted us to get Cameron Smith from the first scrum. You can imagine what Tommy wanted us to do to him.

"He's say what he would do in the first scrum. I don't want to single out Cameron Smith here but he was their captain, he was their leader, so that's probably why he'd mention him. I'm not going to repeat what he would say."

When NSW broke Queensland's near-decade of Origin dominance, Gallen wore Raudonikis's name on his jersey.

"It's an idea NSW should look into this year," Gallen said.

"Queensland had years in that eight-year dominance where they had all sorts of different things to play for. They had the droughts, the fires, Artie Beetson died one year.

"This year might be a good year to honour Tommy and repeat that jersey."

This story How Tommy inspired Ricky first appeared on The Canberra Times.