Tyson Brough describes his officiating career as a “long journey” – one of ups and downs, thrilling highs and heartbreaking challenges.
But as he prepares to reach the significant milestone of refereeing 150 Hostplus Cup games this weekend in Cairns, he knows each one has shaped him into the match official he is today.
When he first picked up the whistle as a teenager, refereeing an under 8s game in Caloundra, Brough never could have predicted the future that lay ahead of him.
From running the line in the NRL to assisting in an a Cup grand final, there’s a lot he has achieved. But even knowing how far he’s come, reaching game 150 is still a shock to the system.
“It’s the old cliché but you always want to just do one,” Brough said.
“To be able to have that longevity and get to 150, it’s hard to believe. When I got to 100 it was a bit of a shock, to be able to get that many games. Now to get 150… I thought I was still ages from it.
“Someone said it was coming up and I thought, ‘surely not’ but when I had a look I was like, ‘oh wow.’
“It caught me off guard a bit so to be amongst those officials who have gotten to 150, it’s special.
“It’s not something I even wrote down, that one day I want to do 150.
“It was always just about week-to-week and wanting to be consistent and making sure I was consistently good in the grade.”
Brough will meet this milestone as the match official in the Round 14 feature game between the Northern Pride and Central Queensland Capras at Barlow Park in Cairns.
This comes nine years after his Cup debut in a clash between Norths Devils and Sunshine Coast Falcons.
“I remember that feeling of going out on the field for the first time,” Brough said.
“You wait so long to get that opportunity and you think you’re ready, you think you’re ready and when you finally get the opportunity, it’s a relief and a mindset of, ‘let’s go out and nail it.’
“The game went along fine. It wasn’t an intense Cup game. But I still remember that feeling.”
Brough’s highlights since that time include his NRL debut on the touch line, which came in the 2021 Magic Round clash between the Canberra Raiders and Canterbury Bulldogs.
He also fondly remembers the 2019 Cup grand final between the Burleigh Bears and Wynnum Manly Seagulls, with Brough assisting his good friend and fellow official, Liam Kennedy, back when it was a two-referee system.
With Jarrod Cole and Jacob Whitehouse on the sidelines, it was a significant moment for all involved.
“It had been a long journey for all of us,” Brough said of himself and his fellow match officials.
“When the anthem was getting sung, I remember taking that moment to think about what we’ve all been through in our journeys and to be there on the day, in that sort of moment, together.
“I remember having those moments to myself.”
Tragically for Brough, one of the hardest moments in his journey was being the match official in the game when James Ackerman passed away in June, 2015.
Ackerman was a mate of Brough’s and that loss was something Brough had to navigate over a fair amount of time – but he never once considered walking away from the game itself.
“It was something that I’d never thought I’d have to confront on a rugby league field,” Brough said.
“Not just in my rugby league career really, but my life. It was a challenging time and learning how to deal with that and continue on and just that life experience around that.
“That was sort of a massive hurdle and just building the resilience around that and the ups and downs of footy in general.
“In life you’re going to have setbacks and things aren’t going to go to plan. To have that ability to keep on keeping on and making sure you don’t let it get the better of you is important.
“If I had of given it away, he (Ackerman) as a person would have been pretty filthy with me. He was the definition of getting on with the job, no matter what it was.
“He was straight down the line and he wouldn’t have wanted that. I love the game of rugby league, I love being around it and for the devastation it’s caused me, it’s given me so much joy and happiness.”
Brough, who lists Richard “Richie” Johnston and his dad Rob Brough as the greatest influences on his career, has a strong relationship with a number of players, current and former, throughout the game, with several ex-players reaching out to him this week to congratulate him on the milestone.
In fact, one of his closest mates was also one of his biggest challengers on the field – former playmaker Todd Murphy.
He said when he looks back over his career, Murphy is one player that sticks out.
“When I played the game, you get to know a few players then you get to referee them,” he said.
“There were some that tested you in different ways… I think most people would say Todd Murphy is one.
“He was definitely one that liked to push the boundaries on the field.
“I was actually the MC at his wedding and he’s old and retired so it’s alright now. But he was a fiery little customer and was the toughest to deal with.
“People used to say, ‘how are you guys mates?’
“But when you’re on the field, it’s a different environment and you see it all the time. When people cross the white line, they just become a different person.
“Now the dust has settled that mutual respect is there. There’s no hard feelings amongst those players.”
Brough said he has no special plans for his 150th, other than maybe sharing a beer with mates once he gets back from Cairns.
But beyond 150, he has a few goals including more time in the NRL and perhaps one day refereeing a Cup grand final as the sole match official.
In the meantime however, he’ll keep working hard and learning what he can.
He said the biggest lesson he has taken in over 150 games is to just keep developing and maturing.
“I guess it comes with age and maturing and learning how to deal with different circumstances and situations and growing as a person,” Brough said of his development.
“Perception is a big thing in all walks of life. My perception coming through as a younger chap wasn’t the best.
“Coming from the Sunshine Coast, I was laidback and more of a jokester so learning to mature as a person and become more of a leader within the group, that has been a massive change in myself.”
Main image: Tyson Brough in Queensland Maroons camp. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL