NRL Podcast: Kasey Badger's lifelong love of rugby league
NRL touch judge Kasey Badger has loved rugby league all her life.
Badger began playing when she was four, but despite being immediately hooked on the game, wasn't afforded the opportunities she was seeking and gave it up at the age of 12.
But five years later she "accidentally stumbled into the refereeing world" after her sheer passion for the game prompted her to undertake a refereeing course.
Badger has been refereeing ever since that fateful day.
She spoke about equality in rugby league and how the game has advanced, in particular over the last 10 years.
When she played at 12 there was no options for women in rugby league at all. When she was 18 she joined a struggling Sydney women's rugby league competition and now there is finally going to be an official national women's tournament.
Such advancements have helped create other opportunities for women in rugby league on and off the field in all aspects of the game, from coaching to playing to refereeing.
"It makes me really proud to be involved in a game that has changed its dynamic so much over the last few years, to get to a point where not only do we have structured competitions for women and girls in younger age groups but the elite pathways as well," Badger said.
"The advancements we have made in the last 10 years have been enormous."
Over the last five years alone the broad base of female referees in rugby league has doubled and is now at 10 per cent.
"Seeing the two of us running around out there has added a lot more exposure and has created awareness around the role of females and the need for them in refereeing," Badger said.
Being the second touch judge ever in the NRL means that Badger would be well suited to become the first female referee to control a game. She would also be a top candidate to officiate in the women's competition much like she does in the Intrust Super Premiership.
"The most respect we can give to the women's game is to have the most elite referees on it," she said.
"My goal was never to be the first. At the moment I just want to be the next one in ... it's not so much that I wanted to be the first, I just want to be the next one there."
Badger is very optimistic for the upcoming women's tournament and truly believes in the strong foundation that has been laid for the game.
She continues to encourage participation in all forms of rugby league.
"My main message would be just to give it a try," she said.
"Had I never tried it I would've never known that I loved it ... give it a go."
The help that junior refs and local associations receive from elite referees is crucial.
"The access that our grassroots referees have to our NRL referees is really, really high," Badger said.
"The engagement that the full time squad have in going to activities ... the majority of guys still give back and are hands on with the young referees in their associations. It has helped advance the game far beyond what seemed capable only a few years ago."