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Ben Cummins with his favourite whistle in his right hand

Ben Cummins lays all his referee gear out on his bed and checks it twice before packing his game bag.

Turns out players aren't the only ones with superstitions and sentimentality.

Among his gear for Sunday's NRL grand final will be a trusty whistle Cummins has carried with him for nearly 30 years.

"It's the same one I used when I debuted (as a referee) as a 16-year-old," the 44-year-old said.

He blew his first try and penalty in an under six game in the Canberra competition with this very whistle. He's been using it ever since.

The whistle has stood the test of time because Cummins looks after it – especially its only moving part, the pea.

"I just boil that in some water and put a bit of vinegar in there – it hardens it up and cleans it up a bit," Cummins said.

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"And I wash the strap every couple of weeks because of the sweat."

He has no idea of how many games he has refereed with the whistle.

"Over 500 easy … the metal covering is peeling a bit," he said.

But the owner is still in good working order and looking forward to his fifth NRL grand final in the middle, but his first as lead referee. Gerard Sutton will be his assistant.

Cummins' noggin is as well-known as that of every NRL skipper and features on television every weekend.

That means Cummins is just as recognisable on the street or supermarket as any player.

Ben Cummins' favourite whistle.
Ben Cummins' favourite whistle. ©Supplied

"All the time," he said, when asked if he signed autographs and was asked to be in selfies.

"Sometimes you just want a quiet moment but if people want to talk footy I enjoy doing that.

"Sometimes I walk around with my eyes down … and if you've had a dusty game you don't want to go out in public.

"But generally I find the rugby league public are very supportive of referees and positive about us in the game."

Still, he's not on social media.

"It's a decision I made … I'm always complaining to the kids about how much time they spend on social media so I make sure I don't do that," he said.

The other reason is that it would open him up to even more criticism the average referee is exposed to.

"It's not easy but you do get used to it," Cummins said of the criticism bordering on abuse.

"It's definitely not right and I found that the hardest part to deal with as I came through as a younger referee.

"I know we lose a lot of referees because of it. But I've been around the game a long time and understand why coaches say things for their teams, and the media have a job to do as well.

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"So you just cop it but it is hard. "

Referees are human too and Cummins remembers the 2015 decider, or the last time he and Sutton officiated a grand final.

"I will always remember Ben Hunt dropping the ball and feeling for him at the time," he said.

"But the whole game was pretty special and that's why it's so great to be a part of all this because you're right there experiencing it."

His pre-game meal isn't a bowl of pasta, chicken salad, or steak and veggies.

"I don't mind a good toastie," he said.

"Avocado, ham and cheese."

Tickets for the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final 2019 are now on sale to the general public.

Tickets are available through Ticketek and nrl.com/tickets.