A YOUTH policy paid dividends for Group Three Rugby League referees in season 2021.
Group Three referees appointments board member, Tony Hardy, said a number of younger referees made their first grade debuts last season while others handled their initial under 18 games.
"Younger referees are needed for first grade and under 18s,'' Mr Hardy maintained.
"They're not the games for old fellas. We still have a place for our more elderly referees, especially controlling reserve grade, because they understand reserve grade culture.''
However, the pace of first grade and under 18 games makes them better suited to younger officials.
Mr Hardy said the younger referees comfortably handled the rise, particularly as they grew in confidence.
"I always say if you're good enough, you're old enough,'' he said.
"And I don't think we received one complaint from the clubs. They might have been a few during the game, but once things had settled down there was no further action taken.''
At the start of the year there were concerns there wouldn't be enough whistle blowers in the group to meet commitments. While the numbers eventually proved adequate, Mr Hardy admitted some referees were controlling fixtures on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.
He doesn't know how numbers are stacking up for 2022.
"A couple are waiting for word on whether they'll be leaving the area for work commitments, so we'll know more by January,'' he said.
"She rang me at the start of the year and asked if it would be okay if she refereed up here, because she thought she'd get more opportunities,'' Mr Hardy explained.
"I said '100 per cent.' ''
Wilson started the season in under 18s while working the line for reserve and first grades. However, she was thrust into a reserve grade match mid-year at Taree when Shawn Burnes was injured.
"I was there that day. Shawn went down so Siobhan came on and took his place and she did a good job,'' Mr Hardy recalled.
"She stayed in reserve grade the next week and if the season hadn't been cut short, she probably would have been given a chance in first grade.
"Siobhan has indicated she'll be refereeing up here again next year. We're happy to have her.''
Wilson was the only woman involved in senior league games last season. However, Mr Hardy assured there are a number of younger female referees who will eventually join her in there.
Bayley Dimarco was named the Group Three senior referee of the year at the referees' presentation. Matt Kneipp was the most improved.
Brayden Worth was the junior referee of the year with David Balaam the most improved. Balaam was also named the referees' referee.