13th June, 2023
As seen on pmn.co.nz
A Cook Island Māori referee is taking on a new role in Australia, and leading the way for those looking at alternative careers in professional sports.
“Refereeing is hard,” says Rochelle Tamarua. “You’ve got to be ten-foot tall and bulletproof.”
Tamarua is leaving for Brisbane today, taking on the Officials Coordinator role with top-tier sporting giant Queensland Rugby League.
“Organising their schedules, it’s like a travel agent, if there’s a tournament in the Gold Coast or whether they need to travel, that’s what I have to do.”
Tamarua is no stranger to breaking the glass ceiling, moving up through the ranks at the Auckland Referees Association, becoming the first woman to referee in the Fox Premiership, and making history last year as a touch judge at the Rugby League World Cup, being the first time two women had been in charge of a world cup fixture.
“It’s quite tough. As a female, as the only female in New Zealand refereeing at international grades, there’s a lot of pressure to ensure that I know the rules, and I apply it correctly.
“We are human too, we do make mistakes, but there’s a sense of acceptance that you’re not going to please everyone, but I love it.”
Speaking to Agnes Tupou on 531pi’s Pacific Mornings, Tamarua says growing up in Grey Lynn influenced her decision to pick up the referee’s whistle, but she was also encouraged by a family member.
“We were surrounded by touch everywhere. My father refereed touch too and he said, ‘hey, do you want to start refereeing?’ and I said, ‘yeah, why not?’, and then grabbed the whistle, started reffing my first game and I just found the love [for it].”
She says the passion was there even at the age of ten, despite changing codes in her final year at Auckland Girls’ Grammar.
“I wanted to find something that was quite similar to touch, and a winter sport.”
Tamarua says her first world cup appearance as a touch judge was between Wales and the Cook Islands in 2022, which was a career highlight.
“That was a proud moment for me. Walking out there as a New Zealander, but also as a Cook Islander, made me smile from ear to ear.”
Rugby league needs more referees
The Auckland Rugby Referees Association officiates more than 3,100 games per year.
Across Auckland’s 23 clubs, Tamarua says it’s encouraging to see more diversity in people who are keen to referee and complete the online courses.
“Pakeha whanāu, you got our Asian, our Indian whanāu that are more than willing to jump on board, regardless of their ethnicity, they just want to come in and try refereeing.”
But she admits there are still challenges.
“It’s not just rugby league – but, all codes, we don’t get paid enough, especially with what we go through on a weekend basis.”
Some as young as 13 can do an online course to referee the under-12 grades, and Tamarua says this is a great learning tool for players.
“How to respect the referee, what the rules are, and it’s to work with the referees and not against them.
“So once they get a taste of refereeing, they understand, ‘oh, actually, this is not an easy job’.”