It has been a whirlwind few weeks for Queensland referee Wyatt Raymond who is preparing to move to Sydney after becoming the latest QRL High Performance Unit squad member to be elevated to a full-time NRL position.
Originally a member of the Townsville and Districts Rugby League Referees Association, Raymond moved to Brisbane in January to work as a physiotherapist – but now, he has to prepare for another big move to take up his new position in the NRL's match official squad.
“To be honest, it was slightly overwhelming, more so from the point of view that I made the move for the first time in my life out of home to Brisbane, sharing a house with housemates from uni, and after a month, I felt like I was getting into a routine with work, so it was a little bit overwhelming,” Raymond said.
“But that quickly changed, because it was a realisation that I achieved what I set out to achieve since I started refereeing, so it was more of a ‘this is an awesome challenge’, versus overwhelming.... and this is what I wanted, so I can’t really think negatively about it, because this is what I wanted for nine-and-a-half years, since I started.”
Raymond – who was a touch judge in Saturday’s Women’s NRL All Stars game in Townsville – said finding out he had been given the opportunity to join with the NRL squad came as a bit of a shock.
“It’s a bit surreal,” Raymond said of the moment he was told.
“I had a chat with Jared Maxwell (NRL general manager – elite officiating) and Shane Hayne (NRL transitional coach)... Jared came up to our (weekly) meeting night to go over what I thought was a laws and interpretations night and he wanted to catch up for a chat.
“I thought it was just touching base and seeing where I was at for the year and we just got chatting, the three of us; and he asked me a few questions with regards to what I thought about my future and what I would bring to the squad if I was ever given the opportunity.
“The conversation sort of progressed and at the end of it, he said ‘we have made the decision, I’ll be offering you a full-time contract’.”
For QRL state match officials manager Paul Stephenson, Raymond’s selection to join the NRL squad full-time was a great achievement and one that showcased the pathways available to referees in Queensland.
“We are all very excited for Wyatt and the opportunity that he has been presented with. It’s a real credit to him, that his hard work and consistency has been awarded,” Stephenson said.
“That, coupled with the fact that he is still considered quite young for an official in the NRL squad, hopefully means he will have a long and decorated career in elite officiating.
“It’s also a real credit to the Townsville referee association, and the quality coaching here in the Queensland High Performance program pathway.
“We believe we have a number of officials capable of taking the next step, and hope that they will be rewarded just like Wyatt in the near future.”
As is the case for many match officials, Raymond had his first taste of rugby league as a player, in his case, as a goal-kicking winger.
However, once he decided to hang up his boots, the local referee association had a whistle ready and waiting for him.
“Referee associations, with their recruitment, they tend to look at people who have stopped playing, but still love the game and I was just approached and asked if I wanted to referee and give it a go,” Raymond said.
Since making the switch to become a match official, it has been a steady progression through the ranks with Raymond achieving representation at local, regional, state and national levels of the game.
As well as standing in junior state carnival matches, Raymond became the youngest referee since former NRL match official Gavin Morris to officiate in a TDRL A Grade grand final in 2016. After moving his way through the QRL’s junior statewide competitions in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup and Hastings Deering Colts, Raymond made his Intrust Super Cup debut in 2018.
In that same year, he was also appointed as a touch judge to the NRLW grand final in Sydney, and then ended the 2019 season on a high after being put in charge of the Australia versus New Zealand schoolboys match played before the Intrust Super Cup decider.
As a youngster, Raymond’s family were also heavily involved in the game in Townsville, and now, they both support him and challenge to push for his goals.
“Mum and dad were always involved in footy, so mum loves seeing me travel and do well and getting to sit down and watch games on TV and dad would also do the same thing, but also challenge me and keep me on the straight and narrow and push me to do better; it’s been really good,” Raymond said.
While being a match official can occasionally attract some unwanted scrutiny, Raymond said the benefits of the role were plenty and he strongly encouraged others to give it a go.
“I think to be honest – it’s the best seat in the house,” Raymond said.
“For people who love rugby league, who live and breathe it, you get to be 10 metres away from the action at all times and well and truly amidst the action, you are not on the sideline.
“I guess the scrutiny is always the main thing that comes up (as a challenge), but in saying that, it is a high pressure environment … but no one is not supported, there’s things in place, processes and protocols in place, and people are protected.
“I think the game itself have moved in that direction really well over the past few years and there’s just so many people to lean on because everyone is going through the same thing and I think that’s the unique part of our (match officials) environment – despite the fact we are a squad and we are team mates and team members, we are also competing against each other, so I think that drives a pretty good culture and looking after one another and being there to help each other when it’s needed.”
With the return of the Intrust Super Cup this season, Raymond’s goals this year are just like that of a player, with a desire to push further into the finals.
“Last year, I set out at the start of the year to be involved in the Intrust Super Cup grand final in some capacity,” Raymond said.
“In 2019, I was in the prelim as a pocket ref, then we all know what happened with last year, but that was the main goal and also to make my NRL debut on the touchline was probably the two main focal points.”