Badger, Sharpe step closer to referee dream after contract upgrades

Kasey Badger and Belinda Sharpe are a step closer to creating history by becoming the first women to referee in the Telstra Premiership after they were promoted to the NRL full-time ranks.

The emerging referees and Todd Smith have been upgraded to the full-time ranks, which was announced at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday.

The trio, who were originally on part-time contracts leading into the 2019 season, received upgrades from referees' boss Bernard Sutton in a major boost towards their chances of one day officiating a game in the middle.

Badger, who has a strong passion for bringing through the next crop of junior referees, worked at the NRL full-time as a referee's education officer while spending her weekends as a tough judge in a part-time capacity.

She expects to continue in a role similar but will shift her focus onto achieving higher honours with full-time employment now offered.

"I was a bit shocked when I was told but I am over the moon. Now it's a great way to still get those training sessions in but not have to get up at five in the morning or avoiding getting home at nine at night," Badger said.

"It allows to you to recover better, refuel and manage injury concerns with more access to our strength and conditioning staff and physiotherapists.

"It means you can be more professional and that's the benefits of being at the elite level."

NRL referees Kasey Badger, Todd Smith and Belinda Sleeman.
NRL referees Kasey Badger, Todd Smith and Belinda Sleeman. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Sharpe (formerly Sleeman), who is based in Queensland, will relocate to Sydney in the coming weeks to begin full-time training.

She edged closer to becoming the first female to referee an NRL fixture in February after officiating a trial match between Brisbane and Wynnum in February.

"I come to Sydney most weeks anyway so it will be a bit of a change but I'm looking forward to it," Sharpe said.

"I have a good understanding of the level of the game but to be in this environment moving forward training full-time is certainly going to help us refereeing both on and off the field.

"This is what we're aiming for, I certainly didn't hesitate to accept the role."

After more than a decade in the junior and senior lower grade systems, Smith's journey has rapidly risen since made his NRL debut as a touch judge in April last season.

He only recently left his job at the NSWRL as a competitions administrator and credits his years spent at the organisation for keeping his referee aspirations a reality.

"It's something I've been striving to for a while now so to be able to finally get a contract is exciting," Smith told NRL.com.

"When I was refereeing at 14 I was still playing and then I made the decision that I wasn't going to go much further as a player and decided to pursue becoming an official.

"Generally it happens before the season but they were obviously happy with how things were going. It's great to be able to move into the full-time group and be in that environment to learn and train on a daily basis."