BEING a referee is one of the hardest jobs in professional sport.
Always bearing the brunt of fans’ frustrations, officials cannot please both teams at the same time and, unfortunately, that can often lead to potential abuse.
Over the years, however, there have been superb referees that have taken to the field in Super League, enamouring themselves to players on the field and making tough decisions that need to be made.
Here are five of the best from the summer era.
Though Russell Smith took up the whistle before the advent of Super League in 1996, the Castleford-born official spent nearly a decade refereeing in the summer game. Quickly earning a reputation for himself as one of the strongest officials in the game, Smith was given the honour of officiating five Challenge Cup finals. He left the British game in 2003 to test himself in the NRL, where he retired after 39 games. Following retirement, Smith became a video official and, after a stint as the interim boss, acted as a senior advisor to the referees boss, Daniel Anderson.
Another Smith, another quality referee, this time with the first name of Ian. Ian Smith officiated in Super League between 1999 and 2010 – a career span that saw him officiate almost 300 top flight games before turning to video refereeing solely. Following a 12-year professional career, Smith went onto the refereeing coaching staff whilst continuing as a video referee. Outside of the game, Smith was also making important strides in the wellbeing of players and all those associated with the game, becoming an ambassador for the State of Mind mental health charity.
Richard Silverwood’s experience is all there to see – he is the referee with the most games under his belt after becoming one of the most influential officials in the 2000s and 2010s. After debuting in his first Super League game in 2001 as the Salford City Reds took on Halifax, Silverwood would later officiate three Challenge Cup Finals and three Grand Finals as well as three World Club Challenges. He became the first referee to register over 400 games in Super League whilst the pinnacle of his career will surely be the 2013 World Cup Final.
During the late 2000s and 2010s, Phil Bentham was a household name in rugby league. With over 300 Super League appearances to his name, Bentham enjoyed a 13-year career with the whistle, being appointed as lead official in two Grand Finals and four Challenge Cup Finals, but also the video referee at four Grand Finals and three Challenge Cup Finals. Unfortunately, Bentham was forced to retire and hang up his whistle in 2018 after suffering a serious neck injury, but his legacy will live on for a long time.
After beginning his life as a referee back in 2001, Ben Thaler quickly shot up through the ranks, establishing himself as a Super League official in 2005. Part of a New Zealand referee exchange in 2005, Thaler earned the honour of being the referee for both the 2015 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, and the 2015 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Known for his lighthearted nature with players, the 41-year-old refereed the 2017 Million Pound Game, which saw Leigh Centurions relegated from Super League, and Hull KR promoted from the Championship. Since debuting in 2001, Thaler has officiated over 500 games, with over 400 coming in the top flight.