Phil Gould has delivered an emotional tribute to late rugby league icon Tommy Raudonikis, holding back tears as he reflected on the legendary figure during the half-time break in the Rabbitohs’ match against the Broncos.
Gould and Raudonikis were teammates at the Newtown Jets in the early 1980s, took turns coaching the NSW Blues in the late 1990s and early 2000s and were lifelong friends.
Gould spared almost three minutes during tonight’s half-time break to honour a man who this week lost a battle with cancer at the age of 70.
“Yesterday morning when the news first broke that the great Tom Raudonikis had passed away, you could just feel the rugby league world stop,” Gould said on Nine’s coverage.
“We all took a breath, exhaled. It was a moment of reflection and sadness.
“Rugby league had lost its most charismatic personality. This was a man who was larger than life, the likes of which we will never see again.
“You will hear many stories about Tom Raudonikis. They will sound exaggerated, embellished and sometimes totally unbelievable. But trust me: they’re all true.
“Tom came into big-time rugby league in the 60s and 70s. It was a tough and violent era back then, but to say Tommy was very comfortable in that environment would be a massive understatement. He reveled in it. He was a fierce combatant; a raw, passionate, unapologetic competitor. He feared no one. He would never take a backward step.
“Tommy was an inspirational leader. You never wanted to let him down. You felt an obligation to prove yourself to him. His acknowledgement meant the world to you. He turned boys into men. He built comradery, unbreakable bonds and lifetime friendships. He liked to make people laugh, even at his own expense.
“Away from the competition on game day, Tommy was a kind and compassionate man. Tommy’s greatest gift was the way he made people feel. Whether it was a fan who just on the street wanted to get a handshake, or the prime minister of Australia, Tommy gave them all 100 per cent attention. He made them all feel good. He never forgot anyone.
“Through all the success he had as a player and a coach, and the notoriety it brought him, he never forgot where he came from. He was always true to himself and his friends.
“As the saying goes, if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings and lose the common touch – that was Tommy. He never lost the common touch. He was the man of the people, he was the people’s champion.
“Many will be saddened by his passing. Each will remember in their own special way.
“The moments that we experienced with Tommy when he was going himself 100 per cent of himself – that’s what Tommy did. That was his gift. He gave us all our own special memories of him.”
The tributes on the opening night of round five began with a minute’s silence ahead of South Sydney’s clash with Brisbane.
Cameras captured Broncos legend and trainer Allan Langer, who was coached by Raudonikis at the Ipswich Jets in the mid to late 1980s, tearing up.
Endless tributes will roll out over the remainder of round five, in honour of a remarkable rugby league figure and human.