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Online initiative keeps Mackay referees onside

Rugby league's whistle blowers have been affected by the football hiatus as much as everyone else has, but one North Queensland association has remained onside since the mid-March stoppage to ensure their match officials aren't penalised.

Within a matter of days earlier this year, when the strict social-distancing and near-lockdown conditions were enforced causing the season to come to a grinding halt, the Mackay and District Rugby League Referees Association executive team, led by secretary Clinton Begg, weren't going to be sin-binned by the worldwide pandemic.

"We knew we needed to develop a platform that we could still engage with our members digitally, to not only keep them engaged but would also allow us the opportunity to educate them," Begg said. 

"The Digital Education Hub also gave us the opportunity to be able to reach out to notable players and referees who have reached the great heights in rugby league and not just tell us about their careers, but how they can help us personally as well.

"Ultimately, we wanted our members to remain active."

With a number of educational resources available, such as virtual training and law challenges, a big hit has been the in-depth interviews with major players and referees.

An MDRLRA member ready for a Digital Education Hub session.
An MDRLRA member ready for a Digital Education Hub session.

"The reason we invited players to talk to our members, like Maroons great Martin Bella for example, was to see how he, from a young age, went through the ranks as a player, what he did to reach the heights he did and the methodologies behind it," Begg said.

"He was very, very strong on no matter what you do, get the best out of what you do and be sure to turn up week-in, week-out... which was a great message for our members.

"It was also interesting to hear who his favourite referee was and what he didn't like about referees for example.

"We've also featured Norths Devils CEO Troy Rovelli, former NRL referees Tony Archer, Steve Clark and Shayne Hayne and current NRL referees Gavin and Kasey Badger.

"And tonight is going to be a beauty as we are joined by former NRL referee and current OzTag general manager Bill Harrigan."

The initiative has been a great success with the platform being adopted by other associations across Queensland, and Begg hopes it can continue to grow post-COVID. 

"Primarily, our hub was only for our referee association, but we've since extended it out to other associations across the state, such as the North Queensland Referees and the QRL's Referee High Performance Unit," Begg said.

"If rugby league re-starts in Mackay, then that will be fantastic for our members, but if it doesn't, that's okay too, as we can continue our training and keeping our members engaged via the hub.

"We are also hoping that post-coronavirus we can continue to use this great resource to better equip our members in the future."

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