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Young Indigenous referees learning their craft

Two young Indigenous referees have had a taste of elite-level officiating as guests of NSWRL Community Football Referees Development Officer Gavin Badger as he seeks to guide them into the upper echelons of the profession.

Badger, who controlled over 300 NRL games before retiring, saw something in 22 year-old Shanika Harpur from Forbes and 19 year-old Balunn Simon from Kiama.

“A big part of what I do is talent-identify referees across the state,” Badger said.

“With Shanika and Balunn they were both part of our development system, refereeing Andrew Johns-Laurie Daley Cups and SG Ball.

“So, when we put the Indigenous Academy together at the NSWRL it was a no-brainer to add those two into it.

“We had eight young officials in our first camp and those two stood out.”

Harpur and Simon shadowed NRL referees Chris Butler and Gerard Sutton as they went through their weekly training session at the NSWRL Centre of Excellence.

The pair were put through warm-up, running drills, weights and a debrief from the weekend games.

“I got into refereeing through my grandfather,” Harper said.

“I was a netballer beforehand but he persuaded me to come and try refereeing in Rugby League, I gave it a go and I loved it.

“It’s such a great way to be involved in the game if you’re not a player. You’ve right there in amongst the action.”

L-R: Shanika Harpur, Gavin Badger, Balunn Simon
L-R: Shanika Harpur, Gavin Badger, Balunn Simon

Simon, whose uncle, True Blue John Simon, played four Origin games while his father, Craig Simon, played for the Illawarra Steelers, played Rugby League as a junior before hanging up the boots.

“I played for 10 years down the South Coast in Group 7 but then I gave it up for the whistle,” he said.

“I got injured a bit, so this was a good way to keep close to the game – no injuries yet in refereeing.

“I love the game and I really look up to ‘Badge’ – he’s been a big influence as I watched him as a kid running the NRL games on the big screen.

“Now being able to train with him at Junior Reps and through the Aboriginal talent program here at NSW Rugby League. He’s been great to get to know on a personal level.”

Harpur and Simon will also be working alongside Badger at a nightly training session for the Harvey Norman NSW Sky Blues, as they prepare for Game One at CommBank Stadium on 1 June.

Their presence at COE this week has coincided with the NRL and NSWRL’s Indigenous Round.

“I’m a proud Wiradjuri woman, my culture means a lot to me,” she said.

Simon, a Biripi man, added: “It’s special – we get to represent our culture before the whole League, and the Round is so well supported by everyone no matter what their background.”

Badger said he looked forward to seeing Harpur and Balunn progress.

“We took them to Queensland earlier in the year for the Murri-Koori Challenge,” he said.

“So, we’re continually trying to up-skill them and push them to go as far as we think they can.

“They are definitely here on merit but if you find you’re lacking in an area – like with the female space in refereeing, or Polynesian – you try to create opportunities for those people.”

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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