Tara Jones a history-maker as both player and referee

TARA JONES made history yesterday (Sunday) by becoming the first woman to referee a full senior professional game in the northern hemisphere.

The 27-year-old took charge of the League One fixture between Oldham and Cornwall at Boundary Park.

Jones, who combines refereeing with playing for St Helens and England, has recorded a number of firsts in her career with the whistle.

In March 2018, she became the first woman to officiate in Super League when she served as an in-goal judge in a match between Wigan and Wakefield.

Earlier this year, Jones took charge of the Challenge Cup tie between Swinton and West Hull, becoming the first to officiate a professional men’s team in the process.

Phil Bentham, the RFL’s head of match officials, said: “Tara has earned this opportunity after years of steady development as a match official through the community game and as a regular touch judge and in-goal judge for professional matches.

“She has received high-profile appointments in a number of competitions, including this season’s Challenge Cup, and has impressed everyone with the way she has performed – earning the respect of players, coaches and her fellow match officials.”

Jones follows in the footsteps of Julia Lee, who was the very first woman to officiate senior men’s matches and reached National Conference League level in the 1990s.

The only woman to previously take charge of a men’s professional game was Sarah Bennison, who as reserve referee took over a match in 2011 at Workington Town at half-time when the allocated referee developed a severe nose bleed.

There are already high-level female referees in the southern hemisphere, with both Belinda Sharpe and Kasey Badger taking sole charge of NRL matches in 2023 and the former regularly in the middle of games this year.

Badger became the first to officiate a men’s World Cup game in 2022, controlling a group-stage match between Wales and Tonga, with Sharpe then following in a tie between England and Greece.

Jones is no stranger to the record books in her playing career either, having become the first-ever female try-scorer at Wembley in St Helens’ Challenge Cup win last season.

She has won three Challenge Cup finals and a Super League title with Saints, while earning seven England caps.