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First woman appointed to officiate Rugby League World Cup

Posted October 11, 2017 16:39:53

Three years after Belinda Sleeman became the first woman to officiate an NRL game, she is making history once again.

The Rockhampton-born referee and touch judge, who cut her teeth in local touch football and rugby league competitions, will be the first woman to officiate at the Rugby League World Cup.

Sleeman has been named in a match officials squad of 26 ahead of the first game in Melbourne on October 27, when Australia will play England.

“As a player the ultimate honour is to represent your country, and I guess for a match official it’s no different,” Sleeman said.

“I don’t set out to get my name in the history books or anything like that.

“It’s a nice sidenote, but for me it’s just getting to the level that I want to get to, and that’s an added bonus.”

‘I didn’t set out to be a pioneer’

The 30-year-old is a regular lead referee in the Queensland Cup competition and has notched up 58 NRL games as a sideline official since her debut in August 2014.

She is modest about her achievements and is wary about revealing her goals for the future, but odds are the trailblazer will not stop here.

“When I started out refereeing I obviously didn’t set out to be a pioneer,” she said.

“As the years have gone on, I’ve come to recognise that my role in the game may influence other females to become involved in the game.

“If me just simply doing my job encourages other females to get involved, then I think that’s great.

“At the end of the day in rugby league, we just want passionate people involved, whether they’re male or female.”

Aiming for a full-time role

The next step for Sleeman is a full-time role with the NRL and selection as a lead referee.

“I don’t necessarily put timelines on anything, and I have aspirations to referee in the NRL like anyone else would in my position,” she admitted.

“But I don’t put any pressure on myself … I’m just enjoying the level that I’m involved in at the moment and concentrating on my performances week to week.”

Some had predicted the first female NRL referee could take to the field in the 2017 season, but Sleeman and the league’s other female match official, Kasey Badger, remained on the sidelines.

“I’m comfortable with the year I’ve had in terms of doing a test match, and then officiating regularly in the NRL and then in the final series,” Sleeman said.

“I feel like things are tracking along pretty nicely for me.”

Sleeman currently works full-time as a media manager for Queensland Touch and is considered part-time with the NRL.

She trains every day, in sessions with the NRL’s emerging referees squad as well as individually.

Sleeman said her family, and her father in particular, had been enormously supportive of her rise through the ranks.

“My dad is a big rugby league fan and loves the game and he’s certainly proud … my whole family is proud of my achievements … and he’s pretty excited about the world cup and looking forward to seeing me on some games there,” she said.

The Rugby League World Cup match officials team will go into camp in Brisbane next week.

Topics: rugby-league, sport, women, nrl, rockhampton-4700, cairns-4870, townsville-4810, perth-6000, darwin-0800, canberra-2600, brisbane-4000, sydney-2000, melbourne-3000

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