‘Prime time’: NRL’s landmark move
BELINDA Sharpe will become the first top flight female rugby league referee in Australia when she officiates the NRL match between Canterbury and Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
Several media outlets reported on Sharpe's appointment - a breakthrough in the code which has never had a woman referee in 111 years of the professional game. The AFL had its first female umpire, Eleni Glouftis, debut in 2017.
Bravo @NRL Could have handed Belinda Sharpe a dud game but, no, prime time for first female ref. 👏👏👏— Damien Stannard (@dstanno) July 15, 2019
Sharpe became an NRL touch judge in 2014 and officiated in that capacity at the 2017 World Cup.
She began refereeing Queensland Cup matches in 2015 and handled a Broncos' trial match against Wynnum-Manly in February this year.
In May, Sharpe and Kasey Badger were upgraded to full-time referee contracts, suggesting the significant appointment wasn't too far away.
"At that stage I was just focused on coming down to Sydney and joining the full- time squad and getting my feet into that environment," Sharpe told NRL.com. "That was the first and foremost thing for me. Certainly it's been a whirlwind couple of months for me, and that appointment was a stepping stone to this Thursday for sure."
Sharpe described the refereeing environment as "high pressure" but said her gender was irrelevant in a lot of ways.
"I've never come across anything like that (sledging). At the end of the day they just want a referee who is capable of doing their job and it doesn't necessarily matter who they are, or whether they're male or female. They just want you to do a good job.
"That hasn't changed over the years in any grade I've been involved in. Once you demonstrate you're competent in that role, that's all that matters.
"The players are used to seeing me out there since I've been doing it for a few years now so they don't treat me any differently."
Sharpe was told the news of her appointment on Monday by NRL referees coach Bernie Sutton.
"There's long been a view whether the females - like Belinda and Kasey Badger - had the speed for NRL," The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield told NRL 360. "But now they're full-time officials and they're doing as much work as the males are, there's a very good opinion they'll go well."