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Belinda Sharpe refereeing the 2019 Women's State of Origin.

The NRL welcomes its first female referee to the middle this week and the game may be celebrating a second before the end of 2019.

After Belinda Sharpe takes a whistle as pocket referee to Ben Cummins in Thursday's Broncos-Bulldogs game in Round 18, there will be seven rounds left of the regular season - or 56 games - to follow.

That means plenty of time for Kasey Badger to become the second NRL female referee.

Head of Football Graham Annesley made sure he mentioned Badger's name several times when addressing the media on Tuesday.

"Belinda has been in the system for a number of years now as had Kasey Badger .... hopefully it's not long before Kasey gets her opportunity as well," Annesley said.

"The reason we brought Belinda and Kasey into the full-time squad this year was to expose them to the rigours of training. We knew this day wasn't far off.

Belinda Sharpe hopes she is the first of many female referees

"While it is a significant appointment and an historical appointment, it is still the appointment of a referee. And gender does not come into it.

"Obviously there's a lot of interest right now but in the months and years ahead, regardless of being male or female if they're the best people for the job then they should be appointed."

Annesley said there were a number of female referees working in the NSW and Queensland second-tier levels "and I'm told they show a lot of potential".

I've never seen my gender as a barrier or a factor in my other appointments

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe

"Hopefully what's happening this week will make them strive even harder to get into the NRL squad. Belinda and Kasey are the first of many to follow," he said.

Sharpe also said her gender had nothing to do with it and hopes that will be remembered when the dust settles.

"I've been on the same pathway as every other official to get to this point. I've had the same setbacks, same triumphs and worked just as hard as every other official," she said.

"I've never seen my gender as a barrier or a factor in my other appointments."

Sharpe has refereed Intrust Super Cup and Canterbury Cup NSW matches, along with being a touch judge in four Test matches at the 2017 World Cup.

And she's ready to pull a James Graham or a Cameron Smith into line if she has to.

"I've been around for a while now and got to experience different players and different personalities on the field," she said.

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.
NRL referee Belinda Sharpe. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"I'm sure each game will bring its challenges but that's part and parcel of being a referee."

Annesley said the Thursday night game was chosen as it was the first of the round – so Sharpe didn't have to wait any longer – and it was a stand-alone game in a big arena reflecting the importance the NRL placed on the moment.

"All games in the NRL are significant, we all know the scramble that's on to make the finals. But we're not about hiding people either," he said.

"Belinda has earned this opportunity and this game showcases her on the national stage."

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg offered his own congratulations.

"The chance to become the first female referee in the NRL would have come with some pressure, but Belinda has worked her way through our refereeing pathways, and patiently waited for the opportunity," he said.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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