AN ALARMING shortage of whistleblowers in Group 4 rugby league circles has prompted the Referees Executive to conduct a two-day seminar at the Lake Keepit Fitness Centre on February 16-17.
The seminar is designed to retain and attract referees to the Group 4 competition and, at the same time, take a step in the right direction of solving an ongoing problem.
With 10 teams registered in second division and six clubs set to tackle first division, more than 30 referees will be needed each weekend when the Group 4 competition kicks off this season.
Last year, Group 4 had access to, on average, 24 registered referees each weekend but at this early stage it is not known if they will all saddle up again for 2013.
Gunnedah’s Jamie Brown, Group 4 Referees’ Association vice-president, describes the shortage as “nearing crisis point”.
“If we don’t act now there will not be enough referees to handle first and second divisions, not to mention junior rugby league commitments,” Brown said.
“The association had a ‘think tank’ and we came up with the seminar idea at Lake Keepit in a bid to, firstly, retain our charges, and, secondly, attract new whistleblowers to the Group.
“If we can sign up three new referees we will be stoked,” he said.
Brown, a veteran of 10 years of calling the shots, was contemplating retirement this year.
“I have achieved just about everything I set out to do when I first picked up a whistle when I was 22 years old a decade ago,” Brown said.
“When I did the sums for this year, however, I really had no choice but to put my hand up again,” he said.
Brown was awarded the honour of refereeing last year’s Group 4 grand final between North Tamworth and West Lions, adding to his impressive resume of having handled one second division grand final, two reserve grade grand finals, three under 18 finales and one under 16 decider.
He has also refereed Australian Schoolboys, Jersey Flegg, Country and Northern Division matches.
Brown blames the shortage crisis, which he says is right across regional Australia, on video refereeing, where every wrong move is put in the spotlight and in the media, crowd abuse and intense pressure on the man in the middle.
“We have to change the way refereeing is perceived and do our best to attract up -and-coming youngsters to what can be a very thankless task,” he said.
The Group 4 refereeing seminar is open to all interested and will be run free of charge from 11am on Saturday, February 16, through to 1.30pm on Sunday.
Several NRL referees will be on deck over the two days and areas covered will include training, judiciary procedures, rules and association protocol.
The association is on the hunt for sponsorship to curb costs and any business or organisation prepared to chip in can contact Brown (0437 423982).