When Taylor Worth found out he would make his Hostplus Cup match official debut in Round 4, he felt excitement, he felt nerves, but mostly he felt relief.
In his own words, it’s been a “long and winding road” to this point for the 31-year-old.
Worth will referee his first Cup game in Saturday’s XXXX Rivalry Round clash between the Mackay Cutters and Central Queensland Capras at BB Print Stadium, a four-and-a-half-hour drive south of his hometown in Townsville.
Match: Cutters v Capras
Round 4 -
Venue: BB Print Stadium, Mackay
For someone who started refereeing as a 13-year-old, back in 2005, there has definitely been some bumps along with the way.
But Worth knows every hurdle and every triumph has helped him get to this point today.
“There was a lot of excitement and a lot of relief,” Worth said of the moment Queensland Rugby League state match officials manager Clayton Sharpe informed him of his debut.
“It’s been a long and winding road for myself so it’s a big weight off my shoulders.
“When he called me, I said I’m really proud of myself for being resilient and hanging in there. This can also create a realistic goal for people in the regions. It shows if you hang in there long enough, the opportunities will come.”
Worth followed his dad into refereeing, starting out in Mini-Mod rugby league in 2005 while Peter Worth was the senior supervisor of Townsville Referees.
He then made his A grade debut in 2010 and continued to develop from there, moving to Brisbane at the end of the 2013 season with his now wife, Sarah.
He officiated for a year in Brisbane before he decided to step back from refereeing altogether, removing himself from the game for three seasons.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right call for Worth at the time.
“I did a year in Brisbane and decided it wasn’t for me anymore,” he said.
“I hung up the boots for almost three seasons… it was a different lifestyle in Brisbane and I didn’t realise the challenges it would bring working full-time and refereeing on the weekends.
“My partner was by herself a lot and the wheel of emotions it brings - the highs and lows - I felt I was at a stage where I was happy just to work and not have the commitments on the weekend.
“I didn’t feel I was going to go any further than where I was.”
Worth and his partner moved back to Townsville as they wanted to be close to family again as they looked to start their own family.
But upon his arrival in town, he found out the referees were short and – with just three rounds to go in the 2017 season – he picked up the whistle once again.
In 2018, John Topp then reached out to Worth to bring him back to the game for good.
“I haven’t looked back since,” Worth said.
'Refs don't just blow a whistle'
“I got a bit of a sniff with a few QRL games and started to find that passion for it again and I wanted to get to the top more than I ever did before.
“I started back at the bare minimum. I was promised nothing, just asked if I wanted to be involved. I started with some Colts games and did a number of them throughout 2018. I debuted as a Cup touch judge in same year.
“I was biding my time to referee in Cup. I had to work for everything I got and sit in the back seat until my time came.
“It’s been well over 100 A grade local association games and many highs and lows from 2010 to now. But it’s definitely all worth it in the end.”
Worth – who lists his four Townsville A grade grand finals as his highest achievements so far – is also grateful for having done most of his preparation for his debut in Townsville.
While he knows it’s difficult coming through the regions, he also knows he wouldn’t be the match official he is today if he wasn’t shaped by his hometown.
“It’s hard being remote,” he said.
“It was just a matter of waiting for an opportunity because there’s only seven games a week and not many doors that open for someone to grab, especially someone from a region.
“I do love being part of the Townsville Rugby League. It’s not only the referees that have shaped me but the standard of players in the competitions up here.
“If you don’t have a strong competition, you don’t really improve. I think it’s a credit to the whole Rugby League Townsville and Districts that I get this opportunity.”
Sharpe also praised Worth for his persistence, with the 31-year-old the seventh referee to debut in the Hostplus Cup from Townsville.
“Taylor has been involved in rugby league for a long period in Townsville, with a short stint in Brisbane,” he said.
“I think his story could be of great inspiration to not only our community match officials, but also those in the regions.
“His appointment comes on the back of immense resilience, persistence and positive attitude, and demonstrates to our community referees all over the state that a pathway to Hostplus Cup exists and is accessible, no matter your age or location.”
Worth will become QRL High Performance Unit match official No. 72 on Saturday.
His wife, parents and 14-month-old son, Otto, will be in attendance, with a few friends also making the trip from Townsville.
He said it was his dad Peter, mum Julie, and wife Sarah, who had been his greatest influences during the past few years. He is over the moon to make his debut in front of them, but certainly hopes there are far more Cup appearances to come this year.
“My dad’s been there from the start with my career,” Worth said.
“He’s coached and mentored me the whole way through. My wife has been with me for 12 years and has seen the highs and lows of it all.
“We go through emotions like players where we miss opportunities, have good games, have bad games. She’s been there through thick and thin.
“They were all over the moon for me. My mum and dad drove to Cairns last weekend to visit my brother. I said to them when I called, ‘you can drive south next week… you’ll be able to drive and see me debut in Mackay.’
“Mum started crying. I think dad wanted to cry but he held it in a little bit. It’s been a long road for all of us. They’re great parents who have supported me the whole way and my wife is much the same.
“She doesn’t understand footy as much as my parents, she just likes it because I’m involved but she understands what it means to get this appointment and the years I’ve sacrificed to get to this goal.
“My wife, son Otto, mum and dad, and a couple of mates will be there. Being born and bred in Townsville, it would have been nice to debut in front of my hometown but I would have gone to PNG to get my first game.
“I don’t care where I go. I just want to enjoy it this weekend. It’s been such a long road. If you count the years I started, it’s 18 years involved in football to get to this goal that a kid from Townsville didn’t even think was possible.
“I’m just going to treat it as another game. I know my strengths and I won’t shy away from those. Hopefully I can walk off with a smile on my face.”