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NRL grand final referees Gerard Sutton and Ben Cummins.

Ben Cummins handles his first NRL grand final this weekend but hopes you won’t notice him all that much.

He will be in charge of the Roosters-Raiders game with Gerard Sutton as his assistant. The roles were reversed the last time they worked together in a decider - the 2015 Cowboys-Broncos classic.

Since then Cummins was Matt Cecchin’s assistant in the 2016 Sharks-Storm decider but missed out on the 2017 and 2018 grand finals.

“This is something I’ve been working towards all year,” Cummins said after being appointed lead referee for 2019.

“Like any fan of rugby league, you want to see a spectacle – so that’s what I’d like to see – with both teams showing their skills, showing what they can do as a football team. I’ll be there to facilitate that,” he said.

Cummins has been an assistant grand finals referee four times, but takes control this time around. His biggest fear is not straining a hamstring in the warm-up.

“Probably you don’t want to make mistakes… but I won’t go into the game thinking that,” he said. “What I’ve done the last couple of months is going in confident and it’s worked for me.”

Referees and officials for all three grand finals on Sunday are appointed after NRL referees' coach Bernie Sutton and head of football Graham Annesley first meet to draw up their list. Then Annesley meets with CEO Todd Greenberg and the positions are confirmed after that.

Ben Cummins will be the lead referee for the grand final.
Ben Cummins will be the lead referee for the grand final. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

The State Championships between the Burleigh Bears and Newtown Jets has lead referee Todd Smith and assistant Tyson Brough in charge, while the NRLW final between the Broncos and Dragons will have Kasey Badger in charge with assistant Daniel Schwass.

Badger will become the first woman to control a NRLW final after Jon Stone handled the 2018 match.

Belinda Sleeman’s name was not among any of the appointments announced today, although she was a touch judge in three NRL finals games: Roosters-Souths in week one, Souths-Manly in week two, and Roosters-Storm in week three.

Annesley was asked if it would have been appropriate to put Badger and Sleeman in charge of the NRLW grand final, as the two highest-profile female referees in the game.

“What we’d done traditionally is keep people in the competitions they’ve been officiating in. So Kasey has been refereeing in the NRLW and Belinda was in the Queensland Cup for the first week of finals and all three weeks of the NRL finals. So we tend not to mix them between the various competitions,” he said, adding that Sleeman had not nominated the NRLW in the pre-finals chat.

She also missed out on being a touch judge in the NRL grand final.

“Belinda is very adamant she doesn’t want anything to do with her refereeing being seen as tokenism. She wanted to keep at both the QRL and NRL level at the finals,” Annesley said. “If she had wanted to referee in the NRLW she would have and then be competing for that game.”

Annesley also said Badger’s elevation to becoming a NRL referee was “not too far away”. But she will have to wait until the 2020 season starting in March. Sleeman made her debut in July at Suncorp Stadium for the round 18 Broncos-Bulldogs game.

Gerard Sutton will referee his fifth grand final.
Gerard Sutton will referee his fifth grand final. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Annesley was full of praise for this weekend’s duo of Cummins and Sutton, who each handled the two preliminary finals last weekend.

“Ben and Gerry have been the standout referees in the finals series and they will make an excellent team on Sunday in the grand final,” he said. 

“They have a significant amount of experience in big games.

“They have both refereed in grand finals previously and Gerry refereed in all three State of Origins this year.

“There is no doubt in my mind they are the best referees for the job.”

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