GROUP 10’s referees association is battling to attract members, with affiliated referees headed into round one numbering nearly half that of 2014.
The senior season begins this Saturday with the first round of the New Era Midwest premiership, while the Group 10 competition begins on Sunday when CYMS play Hawks, Oberon host Mudgee, Bathurst Panthers tackle Blayney and Cowra travel to Lithgow to begin their respective campaigns.
And they’re lucky to have a sufficient number of referees to cover the round.
There’s 17 senior games in total, and availability means just 18 referees will cover the beginning of the season.
In total there’s just 49 affiliated referees headed into this weekend’s junior and senior round, down on the 78 members who this time last year put their hands up to officiate rugby league in the region.
The total of affiliated members eventually reached 96 in 2014, but referees association president Nick Lander was at a loss as to explain the sudden plunge in interest in Western Division, and as such holds fears the current crop of whistle blowers won’t be able to meet the demand in 2015.
“To be truthful, I just think kids don’t want to do it anymore,” Lander said, the recent Rabbitohs-Bulldogs debacle and the treatment of referee Gerard Sutton not helping the recruitment cause.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I do think those guys will be made an example of ... the NRL needs to come down heavy on them.
“Anyone sitting at home sees that type of thing and says I don’t want to be involved.
“It doesn’t help.”
Lander said appointing referees for the opening round of junior football at the end of March proved a “nightmare” with senior pre-season knockouts running at the same time, and believes the difficulties won’t end there.
“Most (junior) clubs are being forced to get through their home games with three or four referees,” he said.
“We recognise people have commitments; work, family and what not ... but we need people to want to be part of it.”
Refereeing courses are being run regularly within Group 10’s boundaries, with junior referees in Blayney and Orange being put through the course in the next two weeks.
Lander said he required at least seven or eight budding referees to run a course, and urged anyone interested in helping to contact him on 0419 637 090.
Anyone who has refereed in the last two seasons can also re-affiliate via the association’s website.
“We need help, but it’s not just in Group 10 ... there’s a shortfall of referees right across CRL. The NRL or CRL needs to come up with a solution to help meet the demand,” he added.