A Week in the Life of: A full-time referee

Neil Barraclough spends a week with Super League match official Robert Hicks

This article originally appeared in the 400th issue Rugby League World magazine. Click here to download the digital version to your computer, smartphone or tablet

“Monday is our review and recovery day, which normally starts with a couple of hours in the gym or pool. We all get together as a group, the six full-timers, and we do a few light-hearted games just to get the heart rate pumping in the first half hour, then there’s a split in the group for the next hour.

“Because I double up quite often, refereeing and touch judging over the weekend, my Mondays tend to be purely recovery – a quick session on a bike or cross trainer for 20 minutes as a flush out, then a few lengths in the pool – but those who haven’t reffed on the Sunday will do a bit more of an intensive cardiovascular session followed by some weights.

“After we’re done, we head up to Red Hall for the debrief of our games. If your game is on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, the understanding is that you’ll have watched the game and clipped up what’s right, what’s wrong, and try to understand why things were good or not so good. If you’ve reffed on Sunday, you do that work first of all on Monday.

“There are three coaches – Ian Smith, Jon Sharp and Steve Ganson – and each coach takes two refs, with each review lasting about an hour. I was on the line for Ben (Thaler) on Sunday; he did his review, but there were certain incidents I’d been involved in that I knew would crop up as well.

“Monday’s quite an intense day, with training, the review, and then a massage to get the lactic out of the muscles. You then have to call your touch judges up and have a chat about the weekend’s game, back them up and get them ready for next week.

“The questions for our Twitter ‘Ask The Ref’ session also start to come in today, which gives fans an opportunity to learn a bit more about what’s gone on. It’s definitely a tool we need to continue with.”

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“An unusual day, because I was part of a really good and open debate with the media at Red Hall. Jon Sharp, Ian Smith, Phil Bentham and myself were involved, and it was really important for us that we got our message out and educated people a little bit more.

“Jon and the media guys at the RFL felt a good way of doing that was having a bit of a briefing with the media, and hopefully we can do a few more in the next few years. Sometimes it’s better to do that rather than hide away from thorny issues. We all want the same thing, and that’s for the sport to improve.

“Some people started to understand some things they didn’t, and similarly we started to see some things that perhaps we don’t normally see because we’re in a performance bubble. The session involved a bit of a review of the season so far, with a good presentation from Jon on what he’s trying to do with referees. He showed that penalty counts have significantly reduced between 2012 and 2014.

“It was a long debate but there was good feedback from both sides – everyone there, including the refs, learned something.
“Tuesdays are also the day we also our appointments for our next game. We have access to an OPTA system, which has games on it from last weekend, and we’ll go away and watch the teams you’re about to referee in order to work out some of the issues that will be around, whether that’s individual player issues or the kinds of plays teams adopt and lines they run.

“For example, if you know a club has a tendency to hold players up, you know you have to be on it in terms of when you issue the ‘held’ call and so on.

“That would be a normal Tuesday morning, then we have training on Tuesday night with the part-time refs. We have a group of cadets – there’s 10 of those – plus senior Championship refs who touch judge in Super League.

“This week there were 40 of us training in Brighouse, made up of the full timers, the Super League touch judge group, and in-goal group, Championship referees, and the cadets as well. I’m touch-judging Wigan-Saints on Friday and refereeing Leeds-Catalan on Sunday; it should be a good weekend.”

“Wednesday is a day off for most refs, but I’m also a lawyer for the RFL so I spend the day doing a bit of compliance work. Most of my day was busy drafting contracts and looking at compliance areas in community game.
“I enjoy the legal work, and I love doing it in sport. It’s always different and challenging, and it’s one of those areas that not many people have a chance to get into. No day is ever the same, it’s challenging and you’re always learning. It’s a good break from refereeing.”

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“I’m at a game on Friday, so today I did a light swimming session followed by 20 minutes cardiovascular work and a few weights. After that I’ll normally meet with my coach and do a detailed preview of the game. That might involve talking about areas where you’re doing well, areas where you need to improve, and the traits of the teams involved.

“One of the big things for me is about improving communication on the field, and Jon (Sharp) has done a hell of a lot of work there to make sure I work hard there and try to keep improving every week.”

“Game day, with me touch-judging at Wigan tonight. In the morning I do a bit of legal work – I tend to fit that in all week where I can. I’ll do a couple of hours before lunch just to catch up with a few things, then head off home, get some lunch, relax and try to get my game head on so that I’m ready to help Phil (Betham) as much as I can.

“There is a difference when it’s a big game like this and a full house, but the responsibility is that you don’t perform any differently. We have to try to be at our best every week, whatever game we’re controlling.”

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“In the morning I’ll do a bit of review of the Wigan-Saints game to make sure I’m happy with it and can mentally box off that game. I’ll then spend an hour in the gym having a flush out, maybe on the bike or in the pool, and finish with a bit of stretching to make sure everything’s ready for tomorrow’s game.

“Once all that’s done, it’s time to switch off and spend some time with the family. I try to make sure I spend as much time as possible with my partner and two young children, and Saturday afternoon is the perfect chance to do just that.”

“Game day again, but this time I’m refereeing. I’ll normally get up a little bit early and spend some time with the children while getting a decent breakfast. I’ll aim to arrive at Headingley two hours before kick-off, because there’s all sorts to do.

“There’s a safety briefing, coin toss, checking the pitch, checking the communication system is working, and finally that the match commissioner has everything he needs. I try to get that all sorted by 2pm, so that I can go out, warm up and just focus on what I need to. It looks like being an exciting game and one that hopefully, come Monday, I can say I’ve nailed. Fingers crossed!”

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