A REFEREE shortage has prompted Group 4 to scour the region for the next generation of whistleblowers.
The Greater Northern Region faces a challenging season due to the dwindling number of referees available for weekly games.
Group 4 needs 60 referees to fill necessary game-day roles for senior and junior games but currently has 12 on its books.
North West NRL referee development officer Ryan Schmiedel said Group 19 and Group 21 were in similar positions.
"Traditionally, Group 19 has fared a little bit better due to having less games, but they are also desperately in need of more referees," Schmiedel told the Leader.
"Group 21 is also in a pretty bad spot, they only have about five first-grade accredited referees signed up and most of them are on shift work and can't be available every week.
"Things are tough all over, but hopefully we can attract new people into the game, because it is a lot of fun."
Schmiedel said he was hopeful upcoming recruitment meetings at Wests (February 15) and the Gunnedah Services Club (March 21) would help unearth new referees.
"We're really hoping all the Group 4 clubs really get behind this push, encourage a few members to get involved and volunteer their time to help out on game day," he said.
"One demographic we are targeting in particular is females aged between 13 and 15.
"Girls in that age group often drop off because there's no junior program for them and they are still two years away from being able to play league tag. "
"If we can encourage them to stay in the game as referees and anyone else who is older than 13 to give it a go, we will go a long way to solving this problem.
"If we can't solve this problem the outcome is quite simple - without referees we won't have a competition to play in."
Group 4 is set to finalise its 2020 fixture at a meeting on Sunday, which will include returning clubs Barraba and the Moree Boars.
"The introduction of the new clubs won't pose any real problem for us referees," Schmiedel said.
"At this point, we carpool to games together and travel pay is included in each referee's benefits.
"There's a lot of incentives to become a referee and hopefully we can see a few new ones from across the region give it a go."
- The meetings on February 15 and March 21 will begin at 10am.