The world's best are coming for the Rugby League World Cup and that includes the tournament's "15th team" – the match officials.
RLWC2017 head of officiating Tony Archer today announced a squad of match officials for the World Cup and for the first time each of the 26 is drawn from the NRL or Super League competitions only.
In another first, Belinda Sleeman is set to become the first female match official appointed to a World Cup fixture after being included in the squad chosen by Archer and RLWC2017 match officials coach Steve Ganson.
The match officials will act as the tournament's 15th team and like the players representing each of the 14 nations they will go into camp together in Brisbane for the duration of RLWC2017, which begins in Melbourne on 27 October when Australia plays England.
They will have their own performance manager, a physiotherapist, a logistics and operations manager and three coaches – Ganson from England, Australia's Russell Smith and New Zealand's Luke Watts – working under Archer.
In a further recognition of their role, Youi has extended its relationship with NRL match officials by becoming an official partner of RLWC2017, with brand integration through the referees' on-field apparel at all 40 matches in the men's and women's tournaments, to be played in 13 cities across Australia, New Zealand and PNG.
Among the match officials selected for the tournament are NRL Grand Final referees Matt Cecchin and Gerard Sutton, and review official Bernard Sutton.
James Childs, who refereed the weekend's Super League Grand Final, will also be officiating at the World Cup, along with video referee Phil Bentham and touch judges Mark Craven and Chris Kendall.
"This is an historical tournament in which all match officials, announced today, qualified by officiating in either the NRL or Super League competitions," Archer said.
"I have worked closely with my counterpart Steve Ganson and the other coaching staff to select the group. We have the Grand Final officials from each competition as part of the squad.
"Their selections are a result of each individual's strong performances throughout the 2017 domestic season and there is a wealth of international and representative depth in the squad.
"The squad will be based in Brisbane throughout. This is a great opportunity for match officials at the elite international Rugby League level to come together as one and I am confident they will perform very well."
Archer said the performances of the match officials during the tournament would determine who was appointed to the World Cup final in Brisbane on 2 December.
There will be some key differences to the way NRL matches are officiated, with World Cup games controlled by one referee – not two – and an in-goal video referral system replacing the Bunker for checking contentious decisions.
There will also be no shot clock for scrums and goal lines drop outs but common rules used in Super League and the NRL will be in operation, including a seventh tackle from the 20-metre re-start if the ball is kicked dead and a tap re-start from a 40:20 kick. Golden point will only be used in finals matches.
"The tournament will be played under the International Laws of the Game with specific interpretations that reflect the common rules played in Super League and NRL, including seven tackles from a 20-metre restart, a tap restart from a 40/20," Archer said.
"All matches will have one referee and will utilise an in goal video referee referral system."
The 2017 RLWC Match Officials squad is:
Grant Atkins (Match Official)
Philip Bentham (Match Official)
Chris Butler (Match Official)
Matt Cecchin (Match Official)
Steve Chiddy (Match Official)
James Child (Match Official)
Mark Craven (Match Official)
Ben Cummins (Match Official)
Robert Hicks (Match Official)
Adam Gee (Match Official)
Chris Kendall (Match Official)
Ashley Klein (Match Official)
Jared Maxwell (Match Official)
Chris McMillan (Match Official)
Scott Mikalauskas (Match Official)
Liam Moore (Match Official)
Dave Munro (Match Official)
Henry Perenara (Match Official)
Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski (Match Official)
Tim Roby (Match Official)
Belinda Sleeman (Match Official)
Jon Stone (Match Official)
Bernard Sutton (Match Official)
Chris Sutton (Match Official)
Gerard Sutton (Match Official)
Ben Thaler (Match Official)
Michael Wise (Match Official)
Officiating support staff
Tony Archer (Head of Officiating)
Laura Dein (Match Officials Logistics and Operations Manager)
Steve Ganson (Match Officials Coach)
Matt Jeffriess (Match Officials Performance (Manager)
Michelle Minichiello (Match Officials Physiotherapist)
Russell Smith (Match Officials Coach)