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Why NRL referees deserve our support

Grid showing NRL referees featured in Stories of Change

Youi’s longstanding support of NRL referees is a source of great pride and passion for our team, and never more so than during the 2023 State of Origin, which kicked off in Adelaide with State of Origin 1 on Wednesday, May 31.

As always, the spotlight is not just on players during Origin, it’s also on those who carry the whistle, whose every move is scrutinised and commented on.

An advertisement for a major brand screened during the commercial break of Origin 1, highlighting this challenging role with a tongue-in-cheek look at how referees may feel misunderstood or disliked.

It’s an important topic that Youi has delved into with high profile referees to understand their points of view firsthand.

Don’t forget the human being behind the jersey

Our Chief Marketing Officer Angela Greenwood points out the crucial role played by referees and the very personal challenges they often face, as explored in our powerful Stories of Change series.

“As longstanding sponsors of the NRL referees, we are honoured to tell meaningful and respectful stories about the challenges they face and to champion their crucial role in the game,” says Angela.

“Our team is very proud of the story we told with NRL referee Ben Cummins in Stories of Change, which shows the heavy personal toll of an incorrect call made in the 2019 Grand Final. It’s always important to remind ourselves of the real human beings behind the jerseys.”


NRL referee Ben Cummins relives making an incorrect call

For Ben Cummins, a mistaken call in the 2019 NRL Grand Final between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters resulted in a brutal public backlash that had serious consequences for Ben – and his family.

“I was just looking inward at the time, thinking ‘I’ve just stuffed up’. I hadn’t really thought about how it affected my family,” he says.

Not only was Ben’s home address published online, but abuse was directed at his children. Looking back, the experienced referee is now able to reflect on what the experience taught him in the form of resilience and coping strategies.

“Resilience is not something we’re explicitly taught as we grow up… it’s something you have to experience when you go through bad times,” Ben says.

“It has taught me coping strategies and about realising there are people in and around your life that care for you and love you. Another is talking to people. Whether they’re specialists or peers, just talk to them and you’ll learn something about the situation and yourself.”

Building bridges with respect

Gerard Sutton is another referee who has been at the centre of a controversial moment – although in his case, he had the comfort of knowing his call was solid.

In 2015, during a fiery clash between the Bulldogs and South Sydney, Gerard had a heated exchange with Bulldogs captain James Graham, who yelled in the referee's face after a penalty call gave the Rabbitohs a match-winning shot at goal. After the match, officials were pelted with bottles by angry fans.

The pair have subsequently spoken and have valuable insights into how to avoid such incidents. Gerard is keen to point out that when it comes to abuse, players are not often the problem.

“I think the public probably perceives that there's a real adversarial kind of relationship there and that referees and players are diametrically opposed a lot of the time,” he said.

“My experience with NRL players is that there's actually a pretty good level of respect. They understand how quick the game is moving and how fast it all happens. And I think as long as you're prepared to be reasonable as an official, that goes a long way.”

Stories like those shared by Ben, Gerard and James illustrate the emotional toll any disrespect can have – worth remembering, no matter how big the prize at hand.

For more on Gerard and James’s story, plus other celebrated members of the NRL and NRLW community, look out for our next Youi Stories of Change series, coming soon.