Five years after her first NRL touch judge appointment in 2014, Belinda Sharpe will make history this weekend, becoming the first female referee of an NRL game when the Broncos host the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium.
As a touch judge in four Tests during the 2017 World Cup, Sharpe had already began her refereeing career with Intrust Super Cup matches in 2015 and was also in the middle to handle a Broncos v Wynnum-Manly trial game in February this year.
Sharp and Kasey Badger were both upgraded to full-time referee contracts in May this year and after six years of senior football, she’s about to break a 111-year hoodoo.
“At that stage I was just focused on coming down to Sydney and joining the full-time squad and getting my feet into that environment,” she told NRL.com.
“Certainly it’s been a whirlwind couple of months for me, and that appointment was a stepping stone to this Thursday for sure.
“I just loved rugby league growing up and I played touch football, ended up refereeing touch footy and made the transition from there.
“The game has been my passion and now I’ve turned that into a full-time career.”
Sharpe will receive similar attention to Eleni Glouftis, who became the first female AFL on-field umpire in May 2017.
Head of Football Graham Annesley welcomed Sharpe’s new status.
“This is a historic moment for the game and I’m so happy for Belinda,” he said.
“She has worked extremely hard, served her apprenticeship, and earned her elevation on merit.
“While Belinda will be judged on her performances each week like any other referee, both Belinda and Kasey Badger are pioneers, who have forged a pathway for the many talented women who will follow in their footsteps.”
Sharpe was told the news of her appointment on Monday by NRL referees coach Bernie Sutton.
She then rang her husband Clayton – also an NRL touch judge – and her parents.
“They were all really excited and looking forward to coming to the game.
“They’re very happy for me.”