sports

Women's State of Origin to make history with all-female referee team

42 2

a woman holding a football ball on a field: Karra-Lee Nolan was selected to be part of an all-female officiating team for the Women’s State of Origin match on the Sunshine Coast. (Supplied)

Karra-Lee Nolan was selected to be part of an all-female officiating team for the Women’s State of Origin match on the Sunshine Coast.

When the Blues and Maroons run out on Sunshine Coast Stadium on Friday there won’t be a man on the field.

In a historic move, the Women’s State of Origin match will be officiated by an all-female on-field team, both coaches are also female and, of course, the players are women.

In what could be a world first, Belinda Sharpe will referee the match, while Kailey Beattie and Karra-Lee Nolan will be touch judges.

"It's a dream come true. I got the call that I'd been selected for Origin off the back of dedication, diligence and hard work," touch judge Nolan said.

"I just want to be seen as an equal, not the tokenistic appointment."

It's certainly the first time an all-female on-field team has officiated in an elite NRL, NRLW or Origin fixture.

"Being a part of an all-female space – it's a first of its kind, it's absolutely surreal," Nolan said.

The 27-year-old debuted in the NSW Cup on the touchline last weekend.

"I am the only girl amongst 40 blokes (in the NSW high-performance refereeing squad) and on the coaching side it's all-male except for one female physio," Nolan said.

She'll line up alongside Sharpe, who became the first woman to officiate an NRL game in 2019.

"This Origin is a credit to people like Belinda Sharpe who've made it possible to come through now and keep flying that flag," Nolan said.

Making it in a 'man's world

Nolan's been officiating since she was 15 years old, but it hasn't been an easy ride to the top.

"I was a national hurdler and had a knee reconstruction at 15. Post-operation, that totally changed my outlook on what I could and wanted to do with my life," she said.

Her two brothers played first-grade football and her dad was a referee.

"After my operation, my dad encouraged me to try it," Nolan said.

"I was at school and wanted to earn some pocket money, so in 2010 I picked up the whistle and haven't looked back."

During that time, she has faced her fair share of naysayers.

"You do get some criticism from the crowds because you're a woman, on-field there's not much opposition, the players want to get on with the game," she said.

Most players have never seen a female referee.

"I'll often get called 'Sir', they'll ask you if that's OK or what you want to be called — I don't mind, as long as they're respectful."

And any criticism, she takes in her stride.

"Respect isn't given, you've got to earn it, it comes down to the credibility of your decisions, how you communicate with the players, how you conduct yourself," she said.

Nolan doesn't want to be judged on her gender.

"When I go to training I train exactly the same as the boys, I do the same weights and training drills," she said.

"At the end of the day, you just want to be accepted as a professional athlete and a referee."

Nolan's juggled her full-time teaching job, training four times a week and refereeing on weekends, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday.

"It is tough fitting it all in, I live 1.5 hours from Sydney in Shellharbour so it's pretty chaotic, but I wouldn't have it any other way, I wouldn't change it for anything."

She believes her teaching background has helped her on the field.

"In terms of player behaviour, I like to keep things simple and clear like with my kids, they know what they can and can't do, so do the players know where they stand and what you expect," Nolan said.

Her goal is to make it to the top.

"The ultimate goal is to officiate in the NRL, hopefully in the next few years that dream becomes a reality," Nolan said.

And for other women to be there too.

"I'd love nothing more than seeing women across all levels of rugby league, in refereeing, coaching, playing," she said.

It's a goal the NRL is also working towards.

"All three of these exceptional officials deserve to officiate at the highest level. This is a fantastic result for the game and testament to the strong pathways of female officiating," the NRL's head of elite officiating Jared Maxwell said.

"Belinda is experienced at this level and [is] no doubt, in part, responsible for the increasing numbers of female officials being developed."

It's also the first time two female coaches go head-to-head in a professional NRL fixture.

"Kylie [Hilder, NSW coach] and I are really looking forward to it. We played footy together and against each other," Maroons coach Tahnee Norris said.

"It's great for the game it's finally happened and hopefully leads to more female coaches, not just in the women's but in men's rugby league as well."

She's also thrilled to see the growth of the women's game.

"To see fans, not just girls but boys, now yelling out names like Ali Brigginshaw and knowing these player's names and all about them is really exciting," Norris said.

Queensland is aiming to take back-to-back titles after defeating New South Wales 24–18 in last year's Origin.

"The rivalry is definitely as fierce, the girls certainly don't hold back just like the men," NSW Blues coach Kylie Hilder said.

"We want to get that shield back and wipe away those memories from last year."

2 Comments

Leave a Comment

Related News