Belinda Sharpe breaks new ground as first female NRL referee


Margie McDonaldSenior Reporter
Mon 15 Jul 2019, 08:00 PM
Margie McDonald

Belinda Sharpe's dad didn't want her to play rugby league despite his teenage daughter developing a real love for the game, so a family friend stepped in and suggested she become a referee instead.

She did and on Thursday – or a couple of decades later – Sharpe steps into history becoming the first female referee of a NRL game, when the Broncos host the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium.

For Queenslander Sharpe, it’s a 'home' game too with her dad and mum, Alistair and Cathy, in the stands to see her out in the middle with senior referee Ben Cummins.

Of course Sharpe has been a familiar sight on the sidelines of NRL matches since her first NRL touch judge appointment in 2014 when Wests Tigers faced the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval.

She was a touch judge in four Tests during the 2017 World Cup.

And crossing the sideline into the field of play is also not unfamiliar to her. Sharpe began refereeing Intrust Super Cup matches in 2015.

She was in the middle to handle a Broncos v Wynnum-Manly trial game in February this year.

So after six years of senior football, she's about to break an 111-year hoodoo.

Belinda Sharpe during the 2019 women's State of Origin match.Belinda Sharpe during the 2019 women's State of Origin match.©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Perhaps Sharpe had an inkling a female appointment was imminent since she and Kasey Badger were upgraded to full-time referee contracts in May this year, along with Todd Smith.

"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," she told

"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.

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"I just loved rugby league growing up and I played touch football, ended up refereeing touch footy and made the transition from there.

"The game has been my passion and now I've turned that into a full-time career."

She has never heard any 'What would you know, you're a girl' sledges from the sideline. Even the players don't apologise when they swear in front of her and nor should they.

"We're all certainly in a high-pressure environment anyway as referees so I don't see any difference between any of us. We just go out on the field to do a job to the best of our ability," Sharpe said.

"We can't focus on anything externally and I won't be. My gender is irrelevant in that respect.

"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."

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Sharpe knows her gender brings the spotlight onto both her and rugby league.

She's spoken a couple of times to Eleni Glouftis, who became the first female AFL on-field umpire in May 2017.

"I've not met her yet but I've spoken to her on the phone. She's made some great strides in AFL and is travelling along really well.

"Certainly I'll look forward to comparing notes with her in future conversations."

Sharpe was told the news of her appointment on Monday by NRL referees coach Bernie Sutton.

She then rang her husband Clayton – also an NRL touch judge – and her parents.

"They were all really excited and looking forward to coming to the game. They're very happy for me."


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  • Nothing good can come out of this....

  • This is bleeding crazy.

    • Only 1 game a month

  • Great stuff. I'm all for it.

    Good luck, Lindy!

  • She can’t do any worse. The more opportunities given to fringe referees the better. Referees need to start being accountable for their performances.

  • Lets see how it plays out, it will be interesting to see how she handles tense situations  and especially persuasive players like Cam Smith 

  • Great stuff.

  • Good on you Bel, love seeing 100 year old stupid traditions broken. A real role model for young ladies and an inspiration to young daughters to stay in and around the game. Well done !!

  • As long as the ref gets the calls right who cares what they have between their legs

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