By David Beck – Bay of Plenty Times

When his rugby league career was cut short by an ACL injury in 2015, Bay of Plenty man Paki Parkinson was justifiably upset.

However, rather than sulk or feel sorry for himself, he found a way to stay as close to the action as possible – as a referee. He completed his level one refereeing course later that year and an eagerness to constantly learn and improve has seen him rise rapidly up the ranks.

This week his passion and dedication was recognised when he was named Match Official of the Year at the New Zealand Rugby League Awards.

Raised in Rotorua, Parkinson is a student of the game and first played for Ngongotaha, just as his father and grandfather did. He also spent time playing in Huntly, where he was born, before moving back to the Bay and playing for Otumoetai, for whom he was playing when he suffered his injury.

Since becoming a referee he has not looked back. He is a regular whistle-blower in the Bay of Plenty/Coastline Premier competition, has refereed in a range of national tournaments and in October was the main man in the transtasman women’s test match at Mt Smart Stadium.

Parkinson said he was surprised, but honoured and humbled to win the award.

“I’ve played league my whole life, it’s in the blood really. After the injury I was coaching my son’s league team at the Papamoa Bulldogs and I thought I’d give refereeing a go, just for the junior leagues.

“After that I was invited to referee at the national rangatahi tournament, which was in Hawera that year, and from there I got the bug.”

Paki Parkinson runs the sideline during the National Secondary Schools Rugby League finals day. Photo / Photosport NZ
Paki Parkinson runs the sideline during the National Secondary Schools Rugby League finals day. Photo / Photosport NZ

Being a referee allowed him to stay fit and give back to the game he loves.

“I also enjoy being able to give players better opportunities to get on the field and play.

“The highlight this year would definitely be the transtasman test, that was a major highlight. The Maori Tuakana finals are always a major for me as well, because it’s players you don’t normally get to referee at club level, they’re a lot higher up in New South Wales Cup and even NRL.”

Parkinson said before a game he focused on the job at hand and did not often suffer from nerves.

“You have to be confident in your own ability and game preparation is big for me. Going through scenarios and issues that might come up, that helps me be ready and not nervous.”

The 34-year-old said his ultimate goal was to referee in the NRL.

“Obviously any aspiring referee wants to be in the NRL, age would be a factor in my situation, but I just need to keep putting my hand up for opportunities and nailing them when I do get the chance,” he said.

The man who nominated Parkinson, Bay of Plenty Rugby League referees chairman Graeme Hill said his greatest strength was his constant desire to improve.

“Paki works extremely hard at what he does. He has transitioned from a player to a referee, he’s done that extremely well, and in a short space of time he has basically excelled at the craft. His work ethic and his man management skills are second to none.

“He will continually analyse and review his own performances every week, he’s always trying to learn, always trying to better himself. He made us aware as an association that he wanted to get to the top of refereeing in New Zealand and be able to do it from the Bay of Plenty.

“We’re all extremely proud, it’s quite humbling, I was happy to nominate him and get him in there,” Hill said.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Honey Hireme reign supreme at the 2018 New Zealand Rugby League Annual Awards announced on Sky Sport’s Kiwi League Show tonight.

Waerea-Hargreaves (Kiwi #755) had one of his best seasons in the black and white jersey, accumulating over 130 run metres for all four end-of-season Test matches in England, and proved crucial in the Kiwis historic 26-24 win over Australia.

Michael Maguire says: “As a senior player within the Kiwis camp, Jared put a lot of time into discussing the growth of the Kiwi team. He has immense passion towards where he wants to see the black and white jersey and this is a real quality of his,”

“Off the back of his brilliant season in club land, he was in a good position to play his best footy for the Kiwis and that’s exactly what he did. His experience has been invaluable in mentoring younger players to step up into international rugby league,” Maguire says.

The powerhouse prop capped off his 2018 NRL season with his second NRL premiership win, a title he was able to share with Kiwis teammate Joseph Manu (finalist for Kiwis Rookie of the Year).

In one of the biggest years to date for women’s rugby league, Honey Hireme was hard to go past when it came to crowning the Kiwi Ferns Player of the Year, an award she won back in 2012. As co-captain of the Kiwi Ferns alongside veteran teammate Laura Mariu, she crossed the ditch to play for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership, an experience she says has benefitted her game.

“The addition of this year’s NRL competition was great for the women’s game. The fact that we could all come together in Kiwi Ferns camp following four weeks of competing in the elite space, was hugely beneficial when it came to pulling on the black and white jersey against the Jillaroos,”

“The more we can play at the top level, the better our game gets. I’m grateful for receiving this award but would also like to recognise the efforts of the other finalists (Kimiora Nati and Aieshaleigh Smalley) and our Kiwi Ferns teammates, my family for their undying support, management and coaching staff,” she says.

The Kiwis Rookie of the Year award was picked up by Kiwi #810 Ken Maumalo, a player who earnt his Kiwis call-up in June at Mile High Stadium before going on to play in all five 2018 Kiwis Test matches, scoring four tries. His impressive season with the Warriors and Kiwis attracted high praises from coach Michael Maguire and rightfully so, given he amassed 15 tackle breaks and 801 run metres over the three Tests he played against England.

“Both Ken and Jared are two players that are hungry for the Kiwis jersey to reach new heights and that’s pleasing,”

“It has been really enjoyable coaching Ken, the more he plays, the more he grows so I look forward to seeing what he does next year,” Maguire says.

Joining Maumalo in playing her first Test at international level, Onjeurlina Leiataua has been rewarded for her break out season with the Warriors women’s team, and the stellar part she played in the Kiwi Ferns narrow loss against the Jillaroos at Mt Smart Stadium this year. These achievements saw her pick up Kiwi Ferns Rookie of the Year.

Promising youngster, Isaiah Papali’i wins Junior Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, having been awarded Warriors Rookie of the Year and receiving his Kiwis debut in England after leading the Junior Kiwis in their match-up against the Junior Kangaroos in October.

This year’s award winners showcase players and match officials performing at the pinnacle of rugby league, as well as community representatives and volunteers who prove to be the backbone of grassroots rugby league in New Zealand.

New Zealand Rugby League wishes to congratulate the award winners from all 13 categories below:

Pirtek Female Volunteer – Karen Gibbons Karen Gibbons (Akarana, Auckland)

Pirtek Male Volunteer – Lawrence Erihe (Mid Central, Manawatu)

Grassroots Club of the Year – South Pacific Raiders (Southern, Otago)

Domestic Coach of the Year – Keith Hanley (Akarana, Auckland)

Match Official of the Year – Paki Parkinson (Upper Central, Bay of Plenty)

NZ 16s Player of the Year – Sione Moala (Counties Manukau, Auckland)

NZ 18s Player of the Year – Tyler Slade (NZ Warriors)

Domestic Premier Player of the Year – Francis Leger (Akarana, Auckland)

Kiwi Fern Rookie of the Year – Onjeurlina Leiataua (NZ Warriors)

Kiwis Rookie of the Year – Ken Maumalo (NZ Warriors)

Kiwis Fern Player of the Year – Honey Hireme (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Kiwis Player of the Year – Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters)

A referee’s journey from tetraplegia to his physical peak
By Lachlan Waugh

20-year-old Brendon Woledge was doing what he loved most when his life changed for the worst.

Playing rugby league, Mr Woledge was experiencing headaches three quarters of the way through his team’s season.

He went to a doctor, who noticed blurry visions and sent him to an optometrist, who then sent him to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed a cyst on his brain which he was born with.

He was booked in for an operation that morning, and from then on he was in hospital for six months, three weeks of which he was induced in a coma.

His spinal cord shot up into the space where the cyst was taken out, which gave Mr Woledge incomplete tetraplegia from the neck down.

He was given an 80 per cent chance of dying, and a 20 per cent chance of being permanently blind. While in a coma, the doctors said he will never walk again.

Now 46, Mr Woledge is a New Zealand Rugby League [NZRL] referee and in the best shape of his life.

But the road to recovery was not so simple.

He says that the news felt surreal when he found out, and it took him a while to comprehend what was going on.

“People call me blasé. When the guy said 80 per cent chance [of dying], I said yeah but how long will be in hospital for and he’s like 3 weeks, and I was like aw yeah sweet do the operation,” he added.

As a result of the operation, Brendon lives with a 50 cent coin-sized hole in the back of his skull, in case anything goes wrong in the future and doctors need to operate.

Although he began running the water for his teammates Brendon slowly felt more left out, and went through stages of self-pity which led to struggles with depression.

He says he started doing his own rehab in the ward.

“So for some reason I rolled out of bed, hit the floor, and I got my legs and started pulling myself around the floor. The nurses saw me doing that, so they put me back up in the wheel chair and wheeled me down to physio and said spend all your free time down there, do what you want to do.

“[From then] Even if it was only little things, like twiddling my fingers as much as I could,” he added.

The death of Mr Woledge’s best friend three years ago, whose life was dedicated to rugby league, inspired him to begin giving back to the game himself.

He took up refereeing, which became a second instinct as he had played in the past. He says the transition was smooth.

Refereeing with NZRL or at home in Wellington, Mr Woledge says the teamwork of referees and supporters on the sidelines is pleasing to watch.

He added it is great to be able to show youngsters that despite injuries, they can still involve themselves in what they love.

“Good to show youngsters even though you have injuries, you can still get back out and enjoy the game you love.”

Because of the operations, Mr Woledge’s fertility was greatly affected, forcing him and his wife to use IVF for his two children. Amongst his difficulties, his positive outlook on life has not changed.

“Make the most of your life,”

Tauranga based referee, Paki Parkinson, is reaping the benefits of the NZRL National Referee Programme. Parkinson was selected to attend the RLIF sanctioned International 9s Tournament in Samoa after his performances in this year’s pre-season trial fixtures.

Parkinson, a former premier player, was identified by NRL Referee and NZRL Match Official of the Year Chris McMillan as someone with great potential when he attended a level one course in the Bay of Plenty. He quickly integrated himself into the referees’ community going on to referee the Final of the 2017 National Secondary Schools Tournament and fixtures of the National Youth Tournament leading to his selection in the NZRL Referees’ Academy.

Paki Parkinson tells us about his experience in Samoa:

“My Samoan journey started with an official welcome into the tournament with a traditional kava ceremony; this was a first for me. Twelve teams total, it looked like a heavy day with 20 matches between three of us. After the meeting the local referees and I shared a few tips around different rulings. I was fortunate to be able to watch the first four round robin games and managed to do a bit of referee coaching. Being able to share some of my knowledge with other talented referees and learn equally from them was a humbling experience.

Over the whole tournament I was privileged enough to referee six games including the finals. Four round robin games, one semi and the grand final. The weather was very humid and challenging to say the least. The weather was a combination of 35-40 degree heat, torrential rain and thunder storms which was so normal to the locals it didn’t seem to faze them. I really enjoyed the quality of Samoan rugby league, with loads of talent shown considering the slippery wet conditions. With two local teams in the final – Apia Barracudas & Marist Saints – the game was played in high spirits and with such passion; Apia coming out on top 12-8. Before flying home I got to experience some local food and culture in which I thoroughly enjoyed.”