Top-flight referees set to earn more than 300k per year

Rugby league's top officials will earn over $300,000 annually in an historic four-year enterprise agreement that avoided potential industrial action from the referees' union.

After 12 months of protracted negotiations between the NRL and the Professional Rugby League Match Officials Union (PRLMOU), referees will see what head of elite football Graham Annesley described as "a significant" salary percentage increase over the next four years.

NRL.com understands that figure is around a 30 per cent pay rise by 2022, with the likes of leading whistle-blowers Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein pocketing over $300,000 – a healthy increase from the previous high water mark of around $180,000.

The current average wage of NRL players is expected to rise to $330,000 in the same time period, while the referees' tiered structure will also see their minimum wage increase well beyond a 2018 base of $105,000.

The announcement of the new partnership between referees and head office comes on the same day that Matt Cecchin returns to the officiating ranks via the second-tier Canterbury Cup competition.

Cecchin will take charge of Saturday's Warriors-Bulldogs clash six months after walking away from the NRL due to the pressures of the job, with a potential round two return to first grade on the cards.

Referee Gerard Sutton.
Referee Gerard Sutton. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

NRL.com has been told a referees strike, possibly for this week's round one fixtures, had been discussed and voted upon by union members throughout the summer.

But with both the officials and NRL coming to an agreement two weeks ago, Annesley said the pay rise puts rugby league referees on a salary par with officials across any Australian sport.

"It's important that we acknowledge just what a critical role our match officials play in the Telstra Premiership week-in and week-out," Annesley said.

"We know that it's a much-maligned job and brings with it lots of criticism.

"But we simply can't have a credible Telstra Premiership without professional match officials helping to ensure that our game reaches the level we expect."

Along with a significant pay increase, the new enterprise agreement introduces several welfare considerations for NRL officials, including access to a full-time sports psychologist in 2019.

The move was one of Cecchin's key recommendations when he exited the Australian game, having copped a torrent of abuse for making a controversial, but correct call during the England-Samoa semi-final in the 2017 World Cup.

After the focus on the game's officials was ramped up by last year's penalty crackdown, Annesley said the NRL had been prompted into action.

Referee Matt Cecchin.
Referee Matt Cecchin. ©NRL Photos

"We have engaged a sports psychologist to work with the referees,” Annesley said.

"That (abuse) received a bit of publicity last year and we've acted on that. We're very aware of the need to ensure their (referees) welfare is protected as much as possible.

"We all know it's a job that comes with a lot of criticism so no one is walking away from that fact so we need to do as much to support them."