Kasey Badger's search for next female referees not for faint-hearted
NRL scouts watched on with interest as more than 150 players were put through their paces during the women's recent Talent ID day.
But none were more thorough in their observations than NRL match official Kasey Badger.
She attended the event and spoke to each player about the opportunity to swap a football for the whistle in the future.
All the scrutiny that comes with being a high-profile match official means you need to have a thick skin to withstand the slings and arrows. Badger concedes being a referee is not for the faint-hearted but she takes it all in her stride.
Only 8.8% of referees are female from the top level through to grassroots rugby league across Australia, a statistic that threatens to sink further despite the recent flurry of expansion in the women's game.
"Which we'd like to fix and increase obviously," Badger told NRL.com.
"Given the profile of a day like Talent ID it gave us a good opportunity to jump on the back of it and tell the girls of the opportunities of refereeing, and identify the talent of girls who might be able to push those barriers.
"That was the first tick for us. We're not preaching to an audience who aren't interested in the game," she said.
"The idea is the same as the coaches and talent scouts in the playing arena is for us to Talent ID some females, who might be able to make it on our refereeing pathways.
"We've found that pretty much for females to make it through our pathways you need to have a certain athletic ability. That's generally what has held people back in the past."
Although she has not yet stepped foot into to the middle of the paddock to officiate at the elite level, her job as a touch judge is the next-best step.
"To be a referee, they have to be the most passionate rugby league fans. To do what we do you've got to love the game across all levels," she said.
"There's that decision-making under fatigue that is really challenging. I enjoy at the end of the game knowing it was a challenge but then knowing we did well.
"Yes, you've got to have thick skin and put up with comments from either fans, coaches, players, trainers or the media."
And when things do go pear-shaped?
"Making an error in the NRL as an official is a horrible feeling," Badger said.
"There is nothing worse than making an error because you've impacted the game and for your officiating team. If I make an error it's a reflection of the other touch judge, the referees, and our match day coach.
"If there's controversy on a Thursday night it puts pressure on everyone involved for the rest of the weekend's games.
"We all strive for perfection and you're never going to get absolutely everything right, we know that, but we all have that expectation on ourselves to get there. But for us it's worth it because you love it so much."
Badger says a future referee can be identified purely by their running style alone and added it presented a second avenue for players who may miss selection for the upcoming women's NRL premiership in September.
All athletes who attended the event were eligible to undergo free refereeing courses, funded by the NRL.
"The physical testing gives us a good snapshot of the baseline figure of where some of these females are at," Badger said.
"Step two is to promote our message of the benefits of refereeing and what we can offer them.
"There's no reason why they can't play and referee as well. I did that for a number of years. Then once you get to a certain level you'll have to make a decision like anything in sport.
"We're building the female game so why not promote the message of female refereeing now?"
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