Sing when you’re winning: Tommy beats cancer … again
By Roy Masters
December 17, 2019 — 6.00pm
Singapore has seen the best and worst of rugby league in 2019.
The best came over the weekend when Tommy Raudonikis spoke to a luncheon of the Carbine Club, the charity which funds sports scholarships for talented youth.
Eight months ago, the 69-year-old ex-international halfback was at death’s door. Along with his partner, Trish Brown, we visited an oncologist at Gold Coast hospital who delivered the expected news that the cancer in Tom’s neck had returned. Further radiotherapy was not possible and chemotherapy had failed.
Immunotherapy, a relatively new treatment, was the only alternative but is successful with only certain types of cancer. We left the doctor’s surgery and made a pact: if Tommy was accepted onto the immunotherapy trial and it worked, he would join me in Singapore, where I take a Carbine guest annually.
There have been rushed hospitalisations since and uncomfortable side-effects but there he was on Friday, 12 kilograms heavier, and speaking passionately before an audience of 120 ex-pats. Their spontaneous and lengthy standing ovation was, according to president David Brooker, “the first in the club’s history.”
Trish has been magnificent, setting her mobile phone for him to take tablets at 6am, 11am, 4pm and 7pm, apart from the slow-release ones at bedtime.
If there are any doubts Raudonikis was the toughest man to play rugby league, his story both before and after he played the sport should eradicate them.
When the Raudonikis family was in a migrant camp at Cowra, his Lithuanian father returned after a week’s work to complaints from Tom’s mother that the usually uncomplaining Tom wouldn’t stop crying. “Feed him,” said the father. “I have,” said the mother. “Check his nappy,” said the father. “I have," she said.
“Check it again.” She did, and discovered a safety pin had pierced through his skin, fastening the nappy to him. Tom’s stoicism was further demonstrated when his mother (who was bashed in the migrant camp because inmates thought she was German) became ill, forcing her to farm out the five kids.
Tom arrived on the door step of one kindly neighbour, announcing himself with, “I only have two shillings and a new pair of sandshoes.”
The Singapore lunch was his first public speaking outing in two years and the audience response energised him enough to declare a “Back From The Dead” talking tour. He is working on his damaged vocal cords, having visited a therapist after watching the movie The King’s Speech. When he says “emu eggs”, he is not ordering breakfast but practising enunciation.
A month or so ago, he surprised Trish by saying he wanted to go to church. They now attend the local Catholic church regularly. While some people turn to God for help when diagnosed with cancer, he did so later, in gratitude. “Something is guiding me through this trial,” he told me.
He is one of only 13 people worldwide on this specific treatment and the only Australian. Results are sent to Switzerland which, ironically, is the country of his mother’s birth.
The day after his Carbine Club appearance, Tom, Trish and I caught a taxi to the Boomerang Bar on the waterfront, where he tasted beer for the first time since his few sips at our Singapore pact.
So, if Tom is the best of rugby league Singapore has seen this year, Mark Coyne was the worst.
Coyne, a commissioner of the ARL, who spent seven weeks in Singapore under effective house arrest, was the rugby league story of the year.
A former Queensland State of Origin star, Coyne was tipped to be a future chairman of the ARLC.
He missed vital meetings and all three Origin games because Singapore police had confiscated his passport, following a charge of abuse of a public official. Yet he excused his absence on the grounds that he had an ear infection which prevented air travel.
I became aware of his arrest soon after he spent a night in a cell but waited over a month - when he was charged - before texting him, inviting him to tell his story. He did not reply but, aware his cover had blown, contacted then ARLC chair Peter Beattie and self reported his offence.
He also contacted a friendly reporter from a rival newspaper and provided a lengthy mea culpa, omitting some details surrounding his detention. He subsequently resigned from the ARLC.
Raudonikis and Coyne were both captains of the two clubs I coached, Wests and St George.
Raudonikis epitomises Wests values, while Coyne’s behaviour in Singapore, and in the days that followed, is the antithesis of all the Dragons represent.
When anyone mentions the word legend, this bloke is at the top of my list by a country mile. Not just for what he did in footy either.
He reached the greatest of heights in rugby league with pure determination, guts and passion after a really rough upbringing.
The list of things he has done since leaving footy is nothing short of amazing either. A stack of that has been for other people too, not for his own benefit.
If one bloke was going to conquer a rare, advanced cancer, it was going to be Tommy Terrific.
I think everyone can learn a thing or two about life from Tommy.
Tommy is an Immortal …literally
Probably told this story a million times …pre season 87 up the Sunny Coast with former Broncos /Wallabies trainer Steve Nance trying to stop him swim the surf to win a bet with a lifesaver to get past the breakers …bloke had cancer and none of us knew bar Nancy
If you had to pick a dozen blokes beside you in the trenches , he is there