Tommy Raudonikis hams it up with his old footy foe and good mate Greg Oliphant.
Tommy Raudonikis hams it up with his old footy foe and good mate Greg Oliphant.

Tribute: ‘Tough as teak’ Tommy Terrific man of many names

For a Maroon-hating cockroach who thrived on going the biff with blokes such as his on-field State of Origin punching bag Greg Oliphant, the late great Tommy Raudonikis was his own worst enemy in advancing the cause of Queensland league supremacy in the wild and woolly 1980s.

From where I sat back then over in the cramped North Ipswich Reserve press booth watching the creator of the "Cattle Dog" call sign to go the biff with any side who opposed him, Tommy Terrific, the Ipswich Jets coach, as much as anyone helped start the Origin rot for his beloved Blues.

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He was the warts and all, knock-em down, drag' em out straight shooting New South Welshman who championed the cause of a young kid plucked out of local club side Norths to play against the big blokes.

That was ballboy-sized Allan Langer or Alfie, who will be among the many die hard Queenslanders mourning the passing on Wednesday of the bloke who once squeezed blood out of a dripping bullock's heart in an Ipswich Jets dressing room to fire his boys up.

No doubt Tommy, who was 70 when he died, had a fag hanging out of his mouth as he sprayed the room with animal offcuts and expletives as he told the troops to toughen up and "show some bloody heart".

Back in 1987 when everyone was backing Sydney Rooster's halfback Laurie Spina to be Maroon halfback for Origin, Tommy sang the praises to anyone who would listen about the unheralded Langer.

So thanks Tommy, you gave every one-eyed Queenslander a lifetime of memorable Alfie moments. It seems every league reporter has an outlandish Tommy tale to cherish.

Here's mine … back in the day when I was sports editor of the Queensland Times, I used to collate Tommy's footy column. I say collate, because there was no need to ghost write, Tommy was great at making stuff up about his always colourful take on the greatest game on earth.

From my addled memory the column was called On the Ball with Tommy Raudonikis, which was a bit cheeky because Tommy had just had the cruellest cut of all for testicular cancer and was known fondly in our news office as "One Ball".

Tommy Terrific and his greatest coaching success – Alfie langer.
Tommy Terrific and his greatest coaching success – Alfie langer.

He always had a different take on the game - that's when I could track him down to record his thoughts for posterity on a Monday afternoon in time for a Tuesday run in the QT.

Like his Jets players who made up half the Ipswich Council road ganging workforce including Alfie, Tommy had a day job at the Rocklea Markets where he was called Tommy Tomato.

As I soon discovered, Monday afternoon for the former hard-as-nails Australian halfback, was often a very social occasion at his watering hole of choice, so I was often left hanging waiting for Tommy's phone call with his latest "gold".

This one Monday, I'd all but given up on Tommy and his column, when he finally called, well after 8pm. Apparently he was still on the grog with his good mate and Origin I halves opponent Greg Oliphant and was well and truly lubricated.

Still, he rattled off to me a scenario of the players he would pick for team Earth if they were playing a life and death game of footy with Mars. It was as they say in the classics, a humdinger too, though the make-up of the team all these years on escapes me.

At the next Jets game I covered, I was greeted extremely warmly by the always effusive coach. Tommy could not thank me enough for using the column, which I think he was paid $80 a pop for.

"Hey Peter, bloody good job on that column, great of you to make it all up for me, mate - sorry I wasn't available, but feel free to write whatever you like on my behalf in future … as long as I get paid," he said, or words to that effect," he said.

He was so pleased with me, I didn't have the heart, mine being more pea-sized rather than bullock-beefy, to embarrass him by confessing that it was mostly all his own work.

Tommy took the Jets to their first Brisbane grand final against Valleys, watched by busloads of Raudonikis-loving Ipswich battlers. We was robbed of course on the day by the ref, just like the league world has just had one of greatest characters snatched away from us.

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