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The NSWRL was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of respected refereeing giant and NSWRL Life Member, Dennis Spagarino, who recently lost his battle against motor neurone disease.

Spagarino, 70, was graded from Western Suburbs and progressed to become a highly successful first grade referee where he controlled 22 matches from 1984-88.

He went on to take on the role of NSWRL Referees Coach and played a crucial role in assisting the development of officials who would go on to NRL careers.

He also held the position of Chairperson of the New South Wales Rugby League Referees Association (NSWRLRA).

NSWRLRA Executive Officer and former first grade referee Greg McCallum said Spagarino helped unlock a lot of the mystery around referees’ appointments.

“Being chairman of the association gave him good insight on how things worked within the refereeing world,” McCallum said.

“He then formed strong relationships with bodies like the NSWRL and NRL because communication was his number one aspect.

“He could handle people of all personalities and abilities because not everyone can get to referee grand finals and Test matches.”

As well as NSWRL Life Membership, Spagarino was also awarded Life Membership of the Western Suburbs Referees Association.

NSWRL director and NSWRLRA chair Keith Greene said Spagarino was highly respected and greatly admired.

“And that’s not just with the refereeing community but the Rugby League world as a whole,” Greene said.

“He made a significant contribution to the refereeing ranks on the field but even more importantly off the field as well, both as a coach and his long-term commitment to his profession.”

Spagarino was also one of the first recipients of the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 after it was brought in by former Prime Minister John Howard.

“He had a good balance between the managerial-administrative side of things but was always concerned with people’s welfare,” McCallum said.

“He cared about you personally as well as your refereeing ability.

“He wore his heart on his sleeve and that made him a very approachable and considerate person.”

The NSWRL passes on its sincere condolences to his wife Karen, daughters Debra and Joanne, his extended family and the many friends of Dennis Spagarino.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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