Female referees closing in on first-grade debut


“We are monitoring where her development and she will continue to referee the Queensland Cup again this weekend.

“She did a good job in the trials and there is no doubt that we are edging closer to that moment.”

That moment will only come when either Sharpe or Badger have earned the nod on merit.

Sutton said they wouldn’t want to break new ground any other way.

“What I know from both Casey and Belinda is that when they do get that opportunity, it is because they have achieved it on their merits,” he said.

“We are really confident with their progression and we will monitor that and see where that takes us.”

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Top official Matt Cecchin is in the same boat as Sharpe and Badger.

He will return to rugby league through the Canterbury Cup this weekend and like the two women pushing for a debut, he will not be rushed into first grade either.

“He’s been away from the game for a while now, he’s refreshed and that’s something we are looking to help him with over the next few weeks,” Sutton said.

“I am really confident we can keep Matt in a positive headspace and he will be a valuable contributor across the season.

“We won’t make any calls on (when he will return to the NRL) just yet and I spoke about being in a position to take advantage of those opportunities when they arise.”

The move comes as NRL head of elite football operations Graham Annesley on Monday announced a new, four year enterprise agreement with the game’s chief whistle blowers which will ensure they remain the best paid match officials in Australia.

The move makes NRL officiating a legitimate career path for the next generation of referees, according to Ash Klein.

“I started when I was 14 and there are so many junior referees out there,” Klein said.

“To see the opportunity to do it full time as viable will make it a career option for many people and the more we can do that, the better.”

While not a major focus of the agreement, Professional Rugby League Match Officials chair Silvio Del Vecchio also highlighted the importance of ensuring referees regularly meet with sports psychologists.

Checcin openly spoke about the toll the abuse from fans took on his mental state when pulling the pin on his career last year.

“Their career here is only a part of their life – it’s not long term – and we need to make sure they get through that well,” Del Vecchio said.

“Every year there are those who suffer for various reasons and we need to be there to look after them.”

Klein said he felt League Central were now providing the neccessary resources to better address officials’ mental health.

“The NRL are doing their best to give us that support,” he said.

“The sports psychiatrist is in their now and assisting our members, which is really good.

“Addressing those challenges is really important and I applaud the NRL for listening and taking notice of that.”

Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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