"There she is, there she is - there’s the girl referee!” cheered four young girls as they jumped to their feet after spotting NRL referee Belinda Sharpe take up her position ahead of kick-off.
Sharpe made history by becoming the first female referee in the NRL’s 111-year history when she partnered Ben Cummins to officiate the Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury Bulldogs clash at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
In years to come the quartet may not remember they were there the day Sharpe made history. They may not become NRL referees themselves either.
However, I hope they are inspired to break new ground in whatever field they choose to pursue.
I’ve followed Belinda’s refereeing career from a distance since she left Rockhampton in 2008 – 11 years ago – to pursue a career as an NRL official.
In the years prior, around about the time she began refereeing junior rugby league, she was a league journalist for The Morning Bulletin newspaper.
She did a tremendous job covering the Rockhampton Junior and Senior Rugby League competitions, and the Central Queensland Comets in the early days of the Intrust Super Cup.
I liked the way she analysed matches, interviewed players and coaches and scribed the articles; it was clear then she had a vast knowledge of the sport.
I remember her officiating a Queensland Rangers versus New South Wales Country match in Rockhampton in 2014, which I covered for The Morning Bulletin at the time.
Melbourne Storm half Billy Walters and Townsville Blackhawks playmaker Michael Parker-Walshe both featured for the Rangers.
Later that year, Belinda became the NRL’s first female touch judge when she ran the line for the Round 26 Wests Tigers versus Cronulla Sharks match.
I was captain of the CQ Capras team a year later when Belinda made her Intrust Super Cup debut in 2015. We played Souths Logan Magpies at Rockhampton’s Browne Park.
Since that day, I have played in many matches where Belinda has been referee.
She has a cool temperament and a personable way of communicating with the players. She’s calm, speaks clearly and is decisive in her decisions.
I occasionally referee scrimmages at Norths Devils training and I’ve quickly realised how difficult it is – there’s plenty going on.
There’s the play the ball, the 10-metre, the players from both sides doing their best to influence your decisions – it’s a tough gig.
Putting yourself into situations like that helps you develop a greater appreciation for what the officials do.
As a teacher at Wavell State High School, I regularly see the referees training on the school grounds of an evening.
Most nights there are 40-odd referees going through their paces in order to be at their best on the weekend. They are completing fitness and agility drills; and they are testing their decision-making ability in game play situations in order to ensure they make the correct decisions when it counts – on game day. They work really hard.
I saw Kasey Badger, a fellow female full-time NRL referee, who is working hard to earn her opportunity in the top ranks, pleasingly rubbish comments Belinda’s promotion was a political move.
“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,” she told NRL.com’s Margie McDonald.
"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."
Belinda Sharpe has worked extremely hard to earn a place in the NRL’s referee ranks.
I’d love her to reach 100 matches as an NRL touch judge (she’s currently on 99).
However, her performance on Thursday night indicated she belonged in the middle and would be in charge of NRL fixtures for a long time to come.
May her achievements be a beacon for those four excited girls in the stands on Thursday night, and all aspiring officials.