The Rugby League playing career of John Woods didn’t last long but on Saturday he will celebrate his 400th match as a NSWRL game-day official, when he runs the touch line in the Jersey Flegg Cup between St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters at Ziem Park on Saturday.
“I only played a couple of years; I couldn’t tackle to save my life,” Woods told nswrl.com.au.
“Both of my grandfathers, who have now long passed, were match officials. It seemed in my blood to a degree, so I got involved.”
Woods was presented with a commemorative, embroidered jersey to mark the occasion by NSWRL Chief Executive David Trodden, when he came in for the weekly training session at Ignite HQ Centre of Excellence.
“It’s really important I think that no matter what we’re involved in, we recognise and celebrate milestones – especially one as significant as this one,” Trodden said.
“It represents a lifetime of work and dedication. To referee just one game takes expertise, let alone 400. It definitely shows the ability you have.
“Referees and officials are a part of everything to do with sport and as important as playing the game. The NSWRL congratulates you and thanks you for your service.”
Woods began his refereeing career out in the Penrith district, but now lives in Wollongong and clocks up the kilometres each week to attend training and matches.
Woods’ curriculum vitae in NSWRL Major Competitions includes officiating in the 2014 and 2017 NSW Cup Grand Finals; the 2015, 2016 and 2018 Ron Massey Cup Grand Finals, and the 2019 Sydney Shield Grand Final.
NSWRL Referees High Performance Manager Stuart Raper said there would only be a handful of game officials who had reached the 400-game milestone.
“It’s a great achievement,” Raper said.
“John is real leader in our squad, so an integral part of our squad.
“Despite the long drives to-and-from Wollongong he never asks for any favours to cover games in his local area. He’s always putting his hand up for games even if they’re in Newcastle or in other regional areas.”
Woods does get a break this weekend as Saturday’s Jersey Flegg Roosters-Dragons game is being played at the Collegians Sporting Complex in Wollongong.
“John has a distinct calmness about him and articulates his decisions to players very well,” Raper said.
“He’s learned many lessons over the years of how to keep those communications solid.”
Woods started with NSWRL in 1997 and has witnessed a lot of rule changes, having two referees before reverting to one again, plus the game speeding up in both attack and defence.
“I’ve seen a lot of great footballers come through the grades and I’ve worked with a lot of great match officials as well – and lucky to have those life-long friends,” he said.
“It’s been a labour of love. I’ve always enjoyed being around the NSWRL referees crew and giving back to the game.
“I’ve got the best seat in the house really – and I get paid to be there!
“Yes, you can quite often get abused by spectators but they’re just as passionate as I am.
“It has been a lot of work to get to 400 but it’s been a very enjoyable ride.”