Referees just doing their job
As the NRL celebrates the contribution of women in all aspects of rugby league this weekend, referee Belinda Sleeman – while appreciative of the sentiment of Women in League Round – is simply focusing on doing to her job right.
Named as a sideline official for the Titans' clash with the Sharks on Saturday afternoon, Sleeman is looking forward to running out on a proud weekend for the NRL, though it isn't what is driving her to succeed as an eventual head referee.
"I think like any other referee your goal is to make it in the NRL and it's a great feeling to achieve that. It's great to be acknowledged for doing well as a female in rugby league but at the end of the day I see it as doing something which I enjoy and have a passion for," Sleeman told NRL.com.
"I have similar goals and aspirations as the other referees in my situation. You get involved as a referee with your own goals and aspirations. It's great to be acknowledged as a female [referee] but ultimately it's about doing something I enjoy."
Fellow female referee Kasey Badger, who made her NRL refereeing debut back in Round 7, shared a similar opinion to Sleeman.
Mentioning all the hard work which went into earning her eventual debut, Badger – whilst thankful for the inclusive nature of refereeing – said if anyone "was good enough" they should be able to achieve what they set out to do.
"[My debut] proves [refereeing is] not restricted to anyone of any gender, age, height or anything – if you're good enough to do a job then you're able to choose it as a career path if you wish," Badger said prior to her debut.
"It's something I've worked hard for and something which I've tried to put myself in the best position to be selected for. I knew I've been going along well, it was just whether an opportunity presented itself and thankfully it did."
"It's been a very long road and that's one of the main things, you have to have the persistence to stick with it and the self-belief, because if you don't think you're going to make it then there is no point spending all that time refereeing on weekends and training mid-week."
With their pathway to refereeing just as tough as others, Sleeman herself said her journey to top-flight refereeing was a "standard one", though certainly difficult.
Encouraged to take up refereeing at 18, with her father displeased with the thought of her strapping on the boots again, Sleeman worked her way through the junior ranks of Rockhampton before moving to Brisbane towards the end of 2008 with an eye on joining the QRL Referees Academy.
Training at the academy for four months before actually being invited to join, Sleeman has since signed on part-time with the NRL, while balancing full-time work at the Courier Mail, and working in what she called the NRL's refereeing 'satellite squad' in Brisbane.
"At the end of 2013 I was offered a part-time contract with the NRL and so basically they decided they were going to have a satellite squad in Queensland so there's around eight of us here who mirror the exact same program that the part-time officials are doing down in Sydney," Sleeman said.
"It means obviously we don't have to relocate or move down to Sydney to continue refereeing which has been really good. They still send one of the coaches up every week to train us and we have access to the same resources – it's just we're based in Brisbane."