When NRL fans from Narrabri and the entire North West region turn on their television or find themselves at a packed stadium in the future, they could be cheering on the referee as well as the players.
Fifteen-year-old Narrabri girl Pippa Smith is a talented young rugby league referee who is quickly rising up the local ranks after completing her referee’s course in February last year.
Pippa, the daughter of Jason and Kelly Smith, is a Year 10 student at Narrabri High School.
Currently learning from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions in place, she received a package in the mail last Friday and opened it to find an NRL referees’ jersey, which at the time she thought was a replica she had ordered.
In round 22 back in August, NRL referees all wore specially-designed jerseys with the names of female NRL-registered referees printed on them.
Listed in alphabetical order, Pippa’s name was featured on the back of the jersey on the left hand side at the
On the front at the top of the jersey on the right hand side was former Narrabri resident Bev Adams.
The excitement of receiving a jersey with her name on it quickly turned into a far greater feeling for Pippa when she was informed the jersey was not a replica, but rather the exact one worn by Chris Sutton who officiated the match between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
Pippa spoke on the phone with Chris, a former Group 4 referee, who offered some valuable advice to the aspiring youngster regarding both refereeing and a career in the game.
“It was so exciting,” Pippa said of both her conversation with Chris and the fact her name was featured on a referee’s jersey during an NRL match.
“To be chosen to be sent one of these shirts is amazing.
“One day I hope to have my name on the front.”
Pippa’s father Jason is a highly-respected Group 4 referee who made his first grade debut this year after seven seasons involved with the whistle in the sport.
Watching her father enjoy his time in the middle, combined with her love of the game, inspired Pippa to take up refereeing last year.
Not only has she had to deal with the usual challenges that referees across all sports face, but her first two seasons have also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just last month Pippa was kitted up and ready to travel to Tamworth to referee her first ladies’ league game between North Tamworth and
Manilla in the Group 4 competition before she was informed that the match had been cancelled amid a positive COVID-19 case in Boggabri which was later discovered to have been a false positive.
Sadly, the season never restarted and Pippa never got the opportunity to take the whistle for her first senior game, however, she has already set her sights on the 2022 campaign.
“Hopefully I get to do a junior tackle game, a 14s or 16s game I’d be really happy with,” she said.
“And I’m most looking forward to my league tag debut.”
Pippa said that she had enjoyed her first two seasons as a rugby league referee.
“I only got a couple of senior games in for trials at the start of the year last year before the season was cancelled due to COVID,” Pippa said.
“I got a few junior lines towards the end of the year, and this year was my first senior season.
“Honestly, I think I needed those couple of games in the juniors to really understand what I was doing before getting into seniors this year so it worked out well.
“This year I’ve done a reserve grade line and multiple 18s and league tag lines and unfortunately my league tag (middle) debut got cut short by a
couple of hours.
“It’s been a great experience and it’s lots of fun.
“I’ve met a lot of amazing people too.”
She said that trying to learn all of the rules and understanding the game from a new perspective – having been a fan and played several games at school – was one of the biggest challenges, but one she has tackled head on.
As for one of the best parts of refereeing?
“Reffing with dad is great,” Pippa said.
“He gets a thrill out of it too, getting to ref alongside his daughter.
“I love it.
“It’s fun to get to crack a joke at him if he does something wrong, but we help each other along the way.”To order photos from this page click here