Australian rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis dies aged 70

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Tommy Raudonikis, one of the toughest players to have pulled on a rugby league jumper in Australia and one of the game's great characters, has died. He was 70.

The Australian Rugby League Commission said that Raudonikis died Wednesday of cancer just six days before his 71st birthday.

A halfback for Sydney sides Wests and Newtown, Raudonikis played 29 times for Australia in tests and World Cup matches, twice as captain. He also played 24 State of Origin games for New South Wales and coached the state's Origin side to victory over Queensland in 1981.

Raudonikis, who was inducted into the National Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2008, had battled a series of cancers in the past several decades.

“Six months, a year ago, I was gone," Raudonikis told Fox Sports in 2019. “The cancer had spread and got around my carotid artery, I’ve had cancer of the testicles, four bypasses, cancer of the vocal cords, cancer of the throat. But this last one . . . they couldn’t have any more radiation or chemotherapy."

Born in Bathurst in central New South Wales state in 1950, Raudonikis was the son of an immigrant Lithuanian father and a Swiss mother. In 1969 he moved to Sydney and played the first of 201 games with Western Suburbs in the Sydney first division.

After 11 seasons at Wests, nine of them as club captain, Raudonikis joined Newtown in 1980, playing 37 games over three seasons, including the 1981 grand final as captain.

Raudonikis was most definitely “old school" — he disliked the practice of opposition players chatting and joking with each other at the end of a match.

“I hated the opposition like they’d done something wrong to the family,” he was once quoted as saying. “I couldn’t wait to get off the field, especially if we got beaten. I couldn’t wait till next week to redeem myself.”

After he retired from playing, Raudonikis coached and took up commentating roles on radio and television.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said Raudonikis was “one of a kind."

“Tommy was everything that makes rugby league the greatest game of all," V'landys said. “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 is survived by his partner, Trish Brown, who was at his side when he died in a Gold Coast hospital south of Brisbane on Wednesday.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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