John Taylor was driving past a sporting field 27 years ago when he noticed a children’s game of Rugby League in desperate need of a referee. That sparked a lifelong passion to become an official which has now taken in 500 games, 20 Grand Finals and seen him win the NSWRL Dennis Braybrook Referees Association Award.
“I thought to myself, ‘Gee, I could do that’,” he said. “I’d only just become a father myself and I thought I could help those kids out and be a referee so that is what got me into it.”
An active member of the Newcastle Coalfield Rugby League Referees Association, Taylor boasts an impressive resume. He was also part of the NRL squad from 2001- 2003 as a touch judge and has taken on roles including Welfare and Support Officer, Director of Coaching & Development, Senior Referee Operations Manager, NCRLRA Training Coordinator and NCRLRA Chairman of Life Member committee.
He has also seen his fair share of players come through the ranks at Newcastle who have gone on to pursue professional Rugby League careers.
“There have been certainly some great players even through to the likes of current day Knights player Brodie Jones from Cessnock,” Taylor said.
“You can remember these guys when you refereed them when they were 10-years old and they just stand out and you think, ‘Oh this young fella he can make it all the way.’”
Taylor has also come across other NRL players in the local competitions in Newcastle he has officiated in, with his most memorable match being a 2013 Elimination Semi-Final between the Macquarie United Scorpions and the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs which included Knights cult hero Nathan Ross and former hooker George Nadira
“I think Macquarie lead 24-0 at a home crowd and Kurri ended up winning the game something like 44-30 and it was one of those games in September,” he said.
“The guys I had on the line that day, we always reminisce on that game how incredible it was.”
Taylor takes satisfaction from coaching the next generation of referees coming through the ranks and the positive influence he can have on them, including his son who has now picked up the whistle.
“I have been fortunate enough that when I started, I had just become a father and my son as that was, is now a first-grade referee in Newcastle so there is a fair bit of satisfaction in that as well,” he said.
“He started refereeing as a 14-year old and certainly has gone on with that as well and has refereed about 100 first grade games.”
Taylor is also a staunch advocate of making sure officials in community football are treated with respect.
“One of my mottos that I like to use when I am talking to junior coaches of teams is, that every game that is played from Under 6s through to State of Origin, the people watching always expect that the referee is going to be of the quality of a Gerrard Sutton or Bill Harrigan just because they put the shirt on but that is not the case,” Taylor said.
“We have to encourage the referees, no matter what this referee does today at the end of the game just go up and shake his hand and just say, ‘You did a great job’ and ‘Thanks for refereeing us today.’
“That kid will go home and when his grandmother rings up and asks, ‘How you did you go?’ today he will say, ‘Oh the coach said I did good’ rather than ‘The coach yelled at me, I don’t think I will go back.’”
The Referees Association Award is one of 18 Volunteer of the Year Awards the NSWRL issues every year to acknowledge the tireless work volunteers contribute to community football every season.
The NSWRL has already announced other Volunteer of the Year Award winners including the Grassroots Club of the Year, Inclusive Volunteer of the Year, the Indigenous Volunteer of the Year, Community Coach of the Year (Male), Community Coach of the Year (Female) and Regional Volunteers of the Year.
The Gordon Lowrie Memorial Award for the overall 2021 Volunteer of the Year will be announced next week.
NSWRL Volunteer of the Year Awards
NSWRL Gordon Lowrie Volunteer of the Year Award (to be announced)
NSWRL Dennis Braybrook Referees Association Award (John Taylor)
NSWRL Grassroots Club of the Year (Casino Cougars)
NSWRL Indigenous Volunteer of the Year – Rhonda Hynch (Wilcannia Parntu Warriors)
NSWRL Inclusive Volunteer of the Year – Ethan Shultz (Albury Thunder)
NSWRL Coach of the Year Male – Alan Brookman (Valley Dragons)
NSWRL Coach of the Year Female – Pauline Wagner (Kyogle SRFLC)
Regional Volunteer of the Year winners (Gordon Lowrie Volunteer of the Year Award chosen from this list)
Volunteer of the Year Bidgee Region - Katie Howard (Wagga Brothers)
Volunteer of the Year Western Region - Tammy Greenhalgh (Bloomfield JRL)
Volunteer of the Year Northern Region - Jack Woolaston (North Tamworth)
Volunteer of the Year East Coast Region - Rebecca Austin (Forster Tuncurry)
Volunteer of the Year Southern Sydney Region - Theresa Tasaico (Riverwood Legion)
Volunteer of the Year South Coast Region - Chris Shea (Southern Highlands)
Volunteer of the Year Western Sydney Region - Michael Zammit (St Clair JRL)
Volunteer of the Year Broken Bay Region - David Zimmer (Willoughby Roos)
Volunteer of the Year Newcastle and Maitland Region - Sharon Jones (Windale JRLFC)
Volunteer of the Year Central Sydney Region - John Critchley (Five Dock RSL)
Volunteer of the Year Macarthur Region - Robert Dreis (Appin Dogs)