Belinda Sharpe carried the match ball to her first match as a NRL referee

NRL senior referee Ben Cummins is not big on pre-game speeches to his officials crew.

But his actions on Thursday night as he welcomed Belinda Sharpe into her first NRL referee role, spoke a thousand words.

"We had spoken about the game in the days prior, so all he said before we left to run out on Suncorp Stadium was to work hard and enjoy the moment," Sharpe told NRL.com.

"But he also asked me to do the coin toss prior to the game and run the match ball out to the middle - duties traditionally carried out by the head referee."

It's little touches like that – plus her dad presenting her referee jersey to her, Broncos and Bulldogs players shaking her hand post-match - which will hum along in Sharpe's brain to make her big night out even bigger in her memory.

But sometimes we tend to forget the little things.

Sharpe was one of three match officials promoted to the full-time NRL referees squad in May this year. The others were Todd Smith and Kasey Badger.

Smith actually made his NRL debut the week before Sharpe, when he was pocket referee with Ashley Klein for the round-17 match between the Dragons and Raiders at WIN Stadium.

Badger is still waiting for her promotion. She will be assistant referee with Todd Smith at Sunday's Wests-Dragons Canterbury Cup game at Leichhardt Oval.

"Just like anyone in the position I'm in, it feels really close and it's good to see my colleagues get their opportunity," Badger told NRL.com.

"It's good to see there is that progression there so I'm just as keen as ever to hopefully get a crack one day."

Badger was understandably a keen observer to last Thursday night's round-18 match in Brisbane.

"Very proud of her. We came into the system at the same time – the back end of 2013 to prepare for the 2014 season," Badger said.

"So it's been a long time coming. The two of us have been in the system for a decent amount of time.

"So one of the things that's been a little frustrating this week has been a number of people commenting that it's a political move, or we're only there because we're female, when realistically we've done our time.

"I know how much hard work Belinda has put in so I know she deserves it. And I know what I've put in to get prepared. It's great to see."

Sharpe was extremely courteous and patient with the many media requests this week ahead of her historic day – the NRL's first female referee in the premiership's 111-year history.

While she insists she looks forward to the day when seeing a female referee on-field is standard and not particularly newsworthy, she equally appreciates the significance of July 18, 2019.

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe.
NRL referee Belinda Sharpe. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"I made sure I took a moment in all the post-game madness - media commitments and recovery - to reflect on the game and what it actually meant to me," she said.

"It was all over so quickly, so I thought it was important to try and register some of those memories straight away to reflect on down the track."

Was there anything that surprised or challenged her seeing as she has been a constant in Intrust Super Cup matches as a referee, or as a NRL and Test touch judge for the past five-and-a-half years?

"There was plenty of nervous energy. I was focused on getting through the first set of the game, because I knew once the game got going I could just settle into my role.

"The speed at which the ball moves across the field is probably something you don't get a full appreciation for from the sideline.

"I certainly did a lot of running, particularly early on when the ball was in play for a 10-15 minute solid block!"

Head referee Ben Cummins and assistant Belinda Sharpe (centre) with touch judges Todd Smith and Michael Wise
Head referee Ben Cummins and assistant Belinda Sharpe (centre) with touch judges Todd Smith and Michael Wise ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

And now Sharpe and Badger can sit back and see the ripple effect of all this. 

"When Belinda and I first came in for the 2014 season, broad-based rugby league numbers had female officials across the country at around 5%. Within two seasons of us getting there [to the NRL] that increased another 10%," Badger said.

"So that doubled mainly from the exposure of two females at the elite level.

"It's like that old saying 'You can't be what you can't see'. So if no-one sees women on the field, then why would any girl think there might be an opportunity for them?

"I'm certain there are females out there that love rugby league and see us and think 'That's what I want to do to'. It's now a legitimate career path for them."