GROUP 3 rugby league club officials admit a lack of respect for officials is the main contributing factor for a referee shortage just six weeks from the season kick-off.
Port Sharks president Zac Newcombe, Forster-Tuncurry Hawks' boss Justan Buttigeig and Wingham Tigers counterpart Scott Blanch all agree referees are concerned about copping abuse from spectators.
But it doesn't just stop on one side of the fence - players are not immune from having an opinion on a decision either.
Mr Newcombe admitted it is a tricky situation the group currently finds itself in, but the clubs have roles to play.
"You would be stupid to say (abuse) isn't a contributing factor, but it's up to the clubs to educate their players," he said.
"Without referees, those of us back in club land are going to have to make sacrifices ourselves in our game-day proceedings.
"We are already talking about pushing some of our Saturday home games back to night time so the referees can referee the junior games earlier in the day.
"But then that adds extra costs for clubs like ours who would need to run the lights."
The Sharks president said senior coaches and captains would be kept up to date with new rule changes and interpretations.
"Then you can give coaches a bit of education on ways they can address the referees and what channels they can go down if they have an issue," he said.
It's undoubtedly having an effect on arguably the most important men on the field.
"That's the main reason for the shortage ... (refs) are sick of being abused," Tigers' boss Scott Blanch said.
"But in saying that, sometimes if they put their hand up and admitted they made a mistake they would get more respect."
Mr Blanch admitted players could respect the men with the whistle more.
"Yes, they could," he said.
"But not everyone has the ability to put their brain into gear before their mouth goes into action and we have some good referees coming through, but the problem is they're young."
"Yes, players could respect them a bit more, but not everyone has the ability to put their brain into gear before their mouth goes into action."Wingham Tigers president Scott Blanch
Mr Buttigieg admitted the Hawks have attempted to steer some of their junior players towards refereeing.
How successful that had been was unknown due to the loss of the 2020 senior season to the pandemic.
"As a club, we're always encouraging our juniors to push into becoming referees," he said.
"(Lack of numbers) doesn't stop with referees, it's volunteers too."
It's not uncommon ground for Group 3 chairman Wayne Bridge and his committee to face before a season starts, but only 15 officials were currently registered on February 24.
Of those 15, only five currently have the necessary qualifications to officiate senior (first grade or reserve grade) fixtures.
Two officials, Cameron Thomas and Jason Allan, who have both controlled first grade grand finals, have indicated they won't be refereeing this year.
"We're not desperate at this stage," Mr Bridge said.
"It is still early and some of the guys are still doing other things like cricket, but we are hopeful most will come back although a lot haven't registered at the moment.
"We might have to rework time slots and move a game here and there, but you can never have enough refs."
"We might have to rework time slots and move a game here and there, but you can never have enough refs."Group 3 chairman Wayne Bridge
Mr Bridge explained the association would require at least 30 referees in total to ease the burden - 10 of which would cover the senior matches.
The increase of residents moving from metropolitan to regional areas could result in a few fresh faces being spotted in the middle of Regional Stadium, Harry Elliot Oval, Wingham Sporting Complex or Verge Street.
"There's been an exodus of people out of the cities so maybe there are a couple of referees floating around amongst them," Mr Bridge said.
"If push came to shove we'd like to see a few more contacting us, but once we get trials going the numbers might increase."
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