NRL under fire over detail in historic female referee appointments for final round

There will be a landmark moment in the NRL this weekend, but has it come a little late?

Andrew Voss during commentary, and Belinda Sharpe during an NRL game.
Commentator Andrew Voss (pictured left) has questioned the NRL to why Belinda Sharpe and Kasey Badger (pictured right) were not introduced to take charge of a game earlier than round 27. (Getty Images)

Commentator Andrew Voss has put the question to the NRL to why it opted not to introduce Belinda Sharpe and Kasey Badger to referee two games before the final game of the regular season. Sharpe and Badger will make history this weekend when they become the first two females to take charge of a game under the single-referee system.

The final round of the NRL regular season will see the duo control matches, having racked up a ton of touch judge and bunker experience in recent years. Sharpe will be the main referee for Manly's clash with Wests Tigers on Friday night, while Badger will be in charge for the Titans' clash with the Bulldogs on Sunday.

'NOT CONCERNED': NRL boss makes call after fans 'robbed' by finals move

'SICK OF IT': Latrell Mitchell at centre of shock retirement bombshell

Sharpe became the first woman to referee an NRL match in 2019, although that was part of the two-official system that was scrapped in 2020. Fans have praised the move. with the experienced duo finally given their chance.

However, long-time NRL commentator Voss has questioned the league's move given it comes in the final round of the season in games that don't have any bearing on the top eight.

Voss was full of praise for both Sharpe and Badger but questioned why it took the NRL until round 27 to introduce them. "Finally, some would say...I am a bit mixed about it," he said on SEN radio on Wednesday.

"The fact that we have got through to round 27. I think there would be a perception, and I don't want to take away from their achievement because I admire what Belinda and Kasey for what they have done, but they are thrown into round 27.

"They are thrown into games that don't have finals consequences. Doesn't it look like you are saying, 'You are good enough to referee first grade, but you're not really good enough to be given the responsibility of the rest of the referees crew'. Could you see that?

"I don't want to say it's a token call. We've waited till the last round and two matches. I don't know. Have we actually made positive strides here or are we just doing this to tick to say, right it's done?"

Voss wasn't alone. There has been a huge outpouring of support for Sharpe and Badger since the announcement, but many wanted to see them take charge of a game earlier in the season.

Female referees to make NRL history

The duo are being hailed as pioneers for future generations of women coming through the officiating ranks. NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo congratulated them on their match appointments.

"Kasey and Belinda are professionals and have shown dedication and discipline in their development," he said. "This is an historic moment for them and for the game."

Belinda Sharpe during a game.
Belinda Sharpe (pictured) will make history this weekend in the NRL being the first female, with Kasey Badger, to referee an NRL game during a round. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Referees boss Jared Maxwell said their development had already driven improvement on officiating pathways for other women. "Their progression is a direct result of the strong pathways that we have, but what is also clear is the impact both Belinda and Kasey have had on the pathways themselves as they have progressed," he said.

"The influence of Kasey and Belinda has inspired young girls to take up refereeing. Many more will be inspired again when they see them refereeing this weekend."

The duo have plenty of experience. Sharpe boasts eight NRL matches as part of the two-referee system to go with 195 as touch judge, while Badger has 161 matches as touch judge and 43 as the bunker review official.

with AAP

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.