NRL history made as first female ref appointed
FOR the first time in rugby league history a female will referee an NRL game.
The highly regarded Queenslander Belinda Sleeman has been appointed to control the Broncos match against local Brisbane team Wynnum Manly on Saturday night.
Rest assured this is no token appointment for the 31-year-old former Courier Mail newspaper sub-editor, who has been a rising young star in the refereeing ranks for several years.
Asked last year about refereeing at NRL level, Sleeman said: "If it happens, I want it to be because of what I've done as an official, not because I'm a female."
There was suggestion in the refereeing ranks last year that Sleeman and Kasey Badger were too slow for the pace of NRL.
Not under the new leadership of head of football Graham Annesley, who is determined to give all women an equal opportunity.
Sleeman told The Daily Telegraph: "It's a huge opportunity to test myself at the next level.
"I used to play and ref touch football where I grew up in Rockhampton, then tried rugby league when I was 18. I always had a passion for the game with my dad."
Asked about being under the spotlight as assistant referee on Saturday night instead of her usual role as a touch judge, Sleeman said: "There are no nerves. At this time of the year it's more exciting than anything else.
"We've been training since November like the players and you use the trials to get back into the swing of things."
As for her fitness and pace to keep up with the speed of first grade, she has no concerns.
"All our sprint technique training and on-field training is exactly the same," she said.
"I'm required to reach the same parameters and expectations as the whole squad.
"We all work really hard to ensure I can compete at the highest level."
At a time when off-field player behaviour and the treatment of women have been the subject of so much negativity, Sleeman says she has never had an issue on the field.
Never is she treated differently to the males.
"The interactions I have with the players is exactly the same as any other official," she said.
"Sometimes there are difficult characters, but everyone just wants an official who is competent at what they do.
"I've only ever had positive experiences in all my involvement as a female in the game.
"I like to be treated exactly the same way as every other NRL referee and I think they respect that.
"I really enjoy doing what I do."
Unlike others in the full-time NRL referees squad based at Homebush, Sleeman trains at the Queensland referees academy in Brisbane.
She works full-time in market for Queensland touch football.
NRL refs boss Bernard Sutton will monitor Sleeman's performance as assistant referee on video.
"It's a great opportunity for Belinda to test herself in the first-grade environment," he said.
"She has enormous experience officiating on the line in the NRL and representative games but it is important to have experience in the top-level games in the middle. I'm looking forward to seeing how Belinda performs."