’Get her on her back’: Ref speaks out about sexism on field

SINCE the sport of Rugby League first became recognised nationally, it's been dominated by men.

Women like Erin Molan, game analyst and host of multiple late night footy shows, have paved the way for women wanting to make their mark on a sport that has always traditionally been a "boys sport".

Since news emerged that NRL immortal Andrew Johns stepped away from his duties covering Friday night footy because of Molan, a fierce argument ensued regarding the place of women in sports like the rugby league in a physical or behind-the-scenes capacity.

One of two female referees for the Dalby Devils, in south-west Queensland, Samantha Morgan, is here to let girls know that it doesn't have to be a "boy sport" anymore.

What started as a desire to make rugby league a family affair, with both her brothers playing and her parents members of rugby league committees, Morgan found herself climbing the ranks through the club, becoming the first female referee for the Dalby Devils.

"I thought instead of sitting on the sidelines just watching I thought I'd get involved as well and basically make it a family thing and to try and get more females involved with it," she said.

The Dalby Devils not only have opened up their competition to female referees, but also to female competitors.

The Devils this year invited young girls wanting to get involved with the sport with their own competition.

Being a woman in the sport and having a particularly controversial role within the game as referee, Morgan has copped her fair share of backlash.

"Being a ref you just sort of have to roll it off the duck's back," she said.

"There was a comment made during the semi-finals series … some of the fellas were saying "we can get the referee on her back" and that was from audience members.

"An A-grade referee … made the comment that if I ever got an A-grade centre, so the centre of an A-grade game, he would quit refereeing.

"So if I was a better referee, he'd quit."

There are times, however, Morgan feels her knowledge of the game and her skills have allowed her to escape her share of backlash.

"Where I am now with Toowoomba and the Devils I've got the knowledge of the rules, and I've focused on the rules," she said.

"By using all my hand signals the audience sort of knows what I'm on about.

"Whereas some of the male referees, they don't use their hand signals as much so the audience gets up them.

"Personally there has been comments directed at the fact that I'm a female but some of it more go towards the males."

It's this skill and her dedication to the sport that lead to Morgan winning the Rookie of the Year award at the end of the rugby league season.

Seeing women like Belinda Sharpe, the first female referee for the NRL, take to the field is what inspires Morgan to keep going despite facing some of the negativity.

But what really keeps her going is the desire to see more women become the face of sports like rugby league, and to have an equal balance of male and female presence on and off the field.

"If they want females to go further than what they are already, they need to allow them to have a go at whatever they can," she said.

"It's not stopping men from umpiring Netball in the World Series, so why can't women do it in the rugby league?"

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