Connor Cooke’s decision to switch from playing to officiating rugby league has more than paid off.
The up-and-coming referee took charge in a host of matches at the School Sport Australia under 12s rugby league championships last week. Cooke gave away playing the game after the sport outgrew him and he never looked back.
“I was too small to play so there was a course that came along at training one day and I took it up,” he said.
“I played one more year of footy while I refereed and then I didn't really want to go up to play under 16s because I would get pummelled so I stuck to refereeing.”
His refereeing took him to the under 11 and under 12s state championships and from there was selected as one of country NSW’s representatives to take the reins at the national championships.
He also earned the right to be one of the two sideline officials in the grand final of the tournament.
The Glen Innes High School student “jumped for joy” when he received the call up and said it is a good pathway into reaching the high levels of the sport.
“Going places, seeing different things, it is probably a lot easier to get to the NRL than playing almost,” he said.
“I find that is a pretty cool idea.”
Refereeing is arguably one of the toughest jobs in the sport with officials under constant scrutiny for their decisions. Cooke said for him, the most difficult part of the job isn’t the sideline remarks but keeping up-to-date with rule changes.
“You get yelled at and it goes in one ear and out the other,” he said.
“The hardest thing would nearly be trying to keep up to date with all the new laws and all the new things that get implemented.
“We are meant to follow a certain way to referee and certain vocabulary and trying to adapt to changes.”
Cooke also referees local junior league matches and runs the lines in senior Group 19 games.
He said if there was any juniors interested in picking up the whistle to be “confident in your decisions, make sure you're up-to-date with the laws and listen to what other people say”.