Referees Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman.
Referees Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman.

NRL gives backing to all-women referee duo

GRAHAM Annesley believes it's only a matter of time before two female referees officiate the same game, as Kasey Badger closes in on a NRL debut.

The NRL's head of football, Annesley told The Daily Telegraph that Badger was on track to becoming the second female referee in the top grade in 2019.

Badger has had to overcome significant health issues in a bid to continue her dream of refereeing a NRL game.

She suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome - a condition where certain nerves are compressed between the collarbone and ribs - and was forced to remove a rib to keep her dream alive.

"Her (Badger's) career has progressed at a similar rate to Belinda Sharpe and I don't think she's too far off … she could even be called up to referee a game before the end of this season," he said.

"When Kasey gets her chance at the NRL level then there's no reason why we won't have two females officiating in the same game.

"That would be a momentous occasion and as historic as Belinda's achievement."

Sharpe made history when she becaming the first female to take control of a top-flight rugby league match since the game's inception in 1908, when she officiated last Thursday's clash between Brisbane and Canterbury.

Graham was full of praise for Sharpe's display and expected referees boss Bernard Sutton to retain her for round 19.

"Most of the time referees will get two or three weeks at the top level and then given a couple of weeks off to take stock of the situation, and that's something we do whether the referee is male or female," he said.

Speaking at his weekly football briefing, Annesley also moved to clear up confusion between what was a traditional shoulder charge and the emerging trend of "shoulder-to-shoulder contact to prevent a try from being scored".

"These are very different. While they do involve the use of the shoulder, the (shoulder-to-shoulder contact) becomes a glancing blow side on rather than that head-on collision that we were seeing when shoulder charges weren't illegal in the game," he said.

Sharpe refereed her first NRL game last Thursday. Picture by Sam Ruttyn.
Sharpe refereed her first NRL game last Thursday. Picture by Sam Ruttyn.

St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty used his shoulder to prevent Penrith's Brent Naden from scoring a try on Friday night and avoided a charged from the Match Review Committee.

Currently the shoulder-to-shoulder tackle falls under "dangerous contact" in the judiciary code but Annesley revealed the NRL would revisit the tackle at the end of the season to determine whether it needed to policed and penalised.

"It's a last-ditch attempt to stop a player from scoring a try, but like everything in the game when we start seeing a certain pattern emerge then we do need to review it and have a look at it and see if we are comfortable with it," Annesley said.

The ability to charge a player with dangerous contact was introduced this season after Billy Slater was cited with a shoulder charge after making a "shoulder-to-shoulder" tackle during last year's preliminary final against Cronulla.

The Dufty ruling has cast more controversy on the shoulder charge rule. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.
The Dufty ruling has cast more controversy on the shoulder charge rule. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.

But the judiciary ultimately found the fullback not guilty and Slater played in the grand final against the Sydney Roosters.

Annesley also encouraged referees to "take a chance" on knock-on calls after a season of inconsistent rulings on dropped balls.

"It changed over a long period of time because of the minute detail we examine these things with, rather than making those decisions without the scrutiny the game is under now," he said.

"In eras gone by they were more willing to take a chance on some of those things and allow play to continue.

"But they have gotten a little more conservative over the last couple of years.

"I'm certainly encouraging of them taking some chances from time to time.

"That's one less stoppage in the game, the game continues and that's one less scrum.

"That's not to say we can ignore knock-ons either but they need to take a balanced view about these things."