The NSW Rugby League Referees Association (NSWRLRA) has celebrated the career of Bill Harrigan by awarding him a Life Membership at their annual post-season function at the SCG last weekend.
The man who controlled 393 first grade games across the NSWRL, ARL, Super League and finally the NRL competitions, has certainly left his mark on the profession.
“He had such a high profile within the referee ranks but also outside of that, which is important,” said NSWRL Referees High Performance Manager Stuart Raper.
“He’s always been very passionate about refereeing. And that had an impact on young guys coming through, who he always tried to help and support.
“Bill was big on fitness and was always encouraging others to do the same as it would help their officiating.”
Raper worked with Harrigan when they were co-coaches with the NRL referees squad in 2011-2012.
“I know him well so it was good to be in the room on the day and see him get presented with his Life Membership. It was a really good day to reflect on a great career.
“Players did like being refereed by him because they knew where the line in the sand was with him.
“Bill let the game run really well – he was hard but fair.
“We had a lot of our current NSWRL referees squad members there at the lunch, so to see someone like Bill get recognised can only inspire them to reach some of the heights he did.”
Harrigan was presented with his Life Membership blazer by the most senior member of the NSWRLRA, 99-year-old Brian Barry.
Gavin Badger is a former NRL referee (controlled 355 first grade games), who is now the NSWRL Community Football Referees Development Officer but one person greatly influenced by Harrigan.
“When I first came into the NRL I used to work another job – I wasn’t fulltime,” Badger said.
“One Tuesday I was told I’d be running the touch line at Olympic Park Stadium in Melbourne for Billy and it was my first time working with him.
“But I injured my (right) leg at work on the Wednesday and had stitches on Thursday. But I was determined to run with Billy on that Saturday … even if I had to get it re-stitched with a club doctor at half-time.”
Badger watched first-hand the aura around Harrigan.
“Billy was just held in such high regard, particularly for referees coming through,” he said.
“Just training with him you were in awe of what he could do.
“If you talk to anyone in the game they’ll tell you Bill Harrigan was the best referee they’ve ever seen over the last 40 to 50 years.”
Harrigan retired in 2003 after a career stretching 17 years that included 26 Tests, 21 State of Origins, 45 first grade finals and 10 Grand Finals.