The annual #CountryWeek round is not just a chance for Intrust Super Cup clubs and players to hit the road; it also provides match officials with the opportunity to get a taste of what the game is like in remote areas.
One of the longer journeys to get to a game this past weekend was to Normanton, where the Souths Logan Magpies, Wynnum Manly Seagulls, members of Queensland Rugby League staff and QRL match officials firstly caught a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Brisbane to Cloncurry then undertook a four-and-a-half-hour bus trip to their remote NQ destination.
Experienced Intrust Super Cup referee and QRL Referees High Performance Unit squad member Tim Rutherford (pictured above with Wynnum Manly's Pat Templeman and Souths Logan Magpie Travis Waddell) said it was one of the best rounds of the year and one he always looked forward to taking part in.
"It’s easily my favourite round of the season and I know as a group we really enjoy getting out to what are some very isolated parts of Queensland and now PNG that we would otherwise probably never get the chance to visit,” Rutherford said.
“The way we are looked after and the hospitality we are shown each year during Country Week is amazing – it’s obvious how much the communities love their footy and appreciate the opportunity to see the Intrust Super Cup in their own backyard.”
He was joined in this trip to Normanton by touch judges Marcus Schooth and Peter MacKinnon (both from the Gold Coast Referees Association) and late call-up James Harbidge who was on standby / HIA co-ordinator.
Despite only being officially appointed to complete their Intrust Super Cup duties – all four volunteered their time to assist as either touch judges or referees in the Battle of the Gulf finals held throughout the day at John Henry Memorial Oval.
“(QRL Major Competitions Manager) Dave Maiden approached us on Thursday after the competition organisers discovered that the referees they had planned to use were either unavailable or committed to playing in games themselves so they were a bit stuck,” Rutherford said of how the opportunity to officiate the local games came about.
“We were happy to help out and between the two touch judges, the standby official and myself who were there for the Intrust Super Cup match, we each refereed a game across the two semi-finals and grand final which was played later in the night.
“The quality of footy might not have been quite what we’re used to in the Intrust Super Cup; however, the games certainly had plenty of intensity ... (the) teams really ripped in and you could tell how much they wanted to win.
“The thing that really stood out was how much the crowd got into the match, particularly with the scores being so close; they were doing their best to ride their teams home.”
Their efforts did not go unnoticed, with Normanton Stingers president Bevan Owens grateful to them all – including the local league and NRL Development staff who pitched in to make sure the games ran smoothly – for their contributions.
“It was great to see these top guys come out here and referee our games,” Owens said. “It relieves the pressure off us a little bit out there.
“We have our group of referees ... but we have ties with every family, with every team, so it takes any special interest I suppose away from them.
“It’s great to see these guys in action ... (and it was also) a good opportunity for the players to experience being refereed by these top level guys; it’s a great experience for the players.”
Harbidge (of the Sunshine Coast Referees Association) spoke with enthusiasm at being afforded the opportunity to be involved with the #CountryWeek round and also relished the responsibility of controlling the important elimination semi-final between Normanton and Mornington Island.
“I am sure I will handle it tomorrow; but I am feeling it going into bed tonight,” he told QRL Media on the eve of the finals matches.
“Coming into Normanton; I wasn’t expecting to do a huge game such as the Normanton and Mornington Island elimination semi-final; but hopefully tomorrow is a good day, the weather prevails and I can referee to the best ability I can.”