26 Jun 2018

Counsellor makes his NRL debut

Newington College counsellor Mr Liam Nicholls has just made his debut as a first grade NRL touch judge. It’s no mean feat – to get to the top in refereeing took resilience, persistence and LOTS of fitness training. Black & White found out more.

What did you need to do to qualify as an NRL touch judge?

In terms of formal qualifications, there are specific referee / match official training and development courses with various levels. There is a pathway program, not dissimilar to the pathways in elite sports, where you can start in lower grade games and then progress to higher grades. There are other personal qualities like an interest in the sport of Rugby League and being physically active.

Why did you want to do it?

Everyone involved in refereeing of officiating has a different background and reason for getting involved. Personally, I enjoyed watching the game and playing it in high school, but identified early on that my talent as a player was not very strong. The next most obvious thing to keep involved was to start refereeing. It also became a part-time job to earn money and stay fit while studying.

What sort of fitness training do you for the job?

The fitness and training demands increase the higher the grade you are refereeing. To maintain a fitness level to do the job in the NRL, I complete 8-10 physical training sessions per week. The training activities vary from in the gym, to the pool, to running and bike riding. It involves a mix of strength and conditioning sessions similar to those the boys do at Newington in their respective sports. 

What’s the best thing about being a touch judge?

Definitely the teamwork aspect. You are part of a team and your primary responsibility is to assist your other mates on the officiating team to have their best performance and make accurate decisions in a game. 

How did you feel when you were told you’d be on the job in a first grade game?

To make it to the top in refereeing, like the top level in any sport, can be competitive and a long journey to get there. You need determination and persistence – the journey has taken 19 years to this point. When I was invited to be on a first grade game, my reaction was to feel a mix of gratitude, humility and excitement.  It also confirmed what many teachers, coaches and mentors had told me growing up, that “some things will take time to achieve, but if you persist and work hard, you will very often achieve it”.

How do you deal with it when people say you made the wrong call?

You quickly learn this is going to be part of the job. You accept that sometimes, just like players, you will make mistakes.  If you make a wrong call, the next job is to work hard to make sure you don’t make that same mistake again. You learn that not everyone will see it from your perspective or position on the field.

Passionate and excited spectators will say you got it wrong every time the call went against their team. You learn to block out opinions that are not constructive or helpful to take on board. You need resilience to be referee. 

What lessons do you learn from being a touch judge that you can pass onto our boys?

The decision to become a referee/touch judge has taught me many lessons that have transferred to both my personal and professional life. The list is too numerous to mention here. A few key lessons I have learned include:

– Committing to something over time and being exposed to challenging environments will build resilience, self-confidence and self-belief. 

– You can control your work ethic, your character, your attitudes and actions. These are the things that determine the outcome and your success.  This is more important than ‘natural talent’.

– Participating in a sport or hobby can build the character traits that Newington encourages the boys to develop, being Self-directed, Reflective and showing Courage, Humanity and Leadership. 

– Recently, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg encouraged Newington parents to help their boys find something that “sparks their interest”. Refereeing was this for me and started when I was in high school. It doesn’t matter what it is … sport, drama, music, debating, cadets, anything … Discover what it is you’re your good at, or grabs your attention and interests, then apply yourself and pursue it. You never know where it will take you. 

Who’s your team?

Many people seem to ask this question, often because they are fans of the game and the competitive spirit in them assumes that everyone must have a team. I can honestly say I do not support a team. When you become a referee you take on a new perspective watching the game, you learn to be neutral, objective and make impartial decisions without emotions getting in the way.


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