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Union ref Richard Parker ready to blow whistle on 200th first grade game


It takes a remarkable person – and one with a thick hide – to pick up a whistle at a young age and step into the middle of a sporting cauldron.

But, that’s what Newcastle Rugby Union Referees Association (NRURA) member Richard Parker did more than two decades ago.

And, this weekend, the well-respected official will etch his name in the local history books.

Parker is set to join elite company when he oversees his 200th first grade encounter as Hunter Rugby combatants Maitland and Wanderers run onto Marcellin Park on Saturday 3 June.

He’s following in the footsteps of Sandy MacNeill, Jim Taylor and Mark Eades, becoming just the fourth person to achieve the illustrious feat.

Richard Parker lays down the lay. Photo: Stewart Hazell

For the record, MacNeill reached the 200 milestone in 1983 and refereed a total of 330 first grade matches; Taylor hit 200 in 1986 and officiated 247 fixtures; and Eades attained 200 in 2007, registering 271 overall.

Ironically, Parker only picked up the rule book, in 2002, after his schoolboy and early adult playing career was derailed by a series of shoulder injuries.

“Refereeing was a natural step for me,” he said.

“To be told at 20 you’re never going to play contact sport again was really hard to take.

“However, rugby has a role for everyone.

“And, refereeing was in our family; my father refereed union in the ACT for more than 30 years and went on to be referee administrator for ACT Rugby and, later, the ARU.”

Parker began his journey while studying at Orange Agricultural College… and quickly moved from the Central West juniors to seniors.

“It was daunting,” he recalled about his first grade debut.

“Here I was, some 20-something kid telling old blokes how to put their head in a scrum.”

He went on to become a leading referee in the Central West competition for 16 years, spent another four in Sydney Premier Rugby and, most recently, has been a Premier 1 regular in Hunter Rugby.

“Refereeing’s provided me with more opportunities, experiences and reward than playing ever would have,” Parker said.

“The sport can and does open doors for you in life on and off the field.”

Richard Parker on grand final day. Photo: Stewart Hazell

He’s also quick to praise others for their support.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been coached and mentored by some of the best in country and metropolitan rugby,” Parker said.

“Refereeing is a team and without the assistance of people on and off the field, we can’t achieve our goals or dreams.

“I would particularly like to thank Ian Richardson, Mark Eades, Des George and Dick Byres, who have all been instrumental in my journey.

“At times, refereeing isn’t easy.

“But, to achieve any goal in life you need to have dedication, determination, drive, self-belief and humility… qualities which all referees need.”

His career highlights include refereeing international representative players such as Drew Mitchell, Matt Dunning, Ryan Cross and Gavin De Bartolo; working alongside ARU Referees peers such as Stu Dickinson, Matt Goddard, Ian Smith, Angus Gardner, Nathan Pearce and, of course, being part of the action with his brother and former International and Super Rugby official Andrew Lees.

Parker also reflected on the 2013 Kentwell Cup Sydney Suburban division one decider between St Patricks Strathfield and Balmain as one of the pinnacle moments, a 32-all draw after extra-time.

The 2016 Central West grand final featuring the Orange Emus and Forbes (16-14) ranks highly as well.

“It was just one of those rare days of refereeing, probably as close to the ‘perfect game’ when everything just clicked,” he said.

As for this weekend, Parker insisted match number 200 was “just another game”.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he said.

“There are two teams playing, both aiming to win.

“I’ll prepare this week the same as I do every other week.

“To referee one first grade game was a dream, so to reach 200 is a special memory.”

The NRURA committee and its members extend their congratulations to Parker, too.

Richard Parker’s refereeing CV

  • Seasons = 22

Grand finals:

  • First grade: 4 (2006, 2009, 2016, 2022)
  • Second grade: 4 (2007, 2008, 2017, 2018)
  • Colts: 1 (2005)
  • Sydney Suburban Kentwell Cup (Div 1, 1st Grade): 2 (2012, 2013)

NSW Country Referee Panel 2004-2009

Country Championship Finals:

  • Colts: 1 (2008)
  • Caldwell Cup: 1 (2009)
  • NSW Country Cockatoos Fixtures: 4 (2008-2009)

Australian Rugby Shield: 2007, 2008, 2009

NSWCRURA Coaches Panel: 2018 – present

ARU National Development Program: 2007, 2008

Sydney Premiership Panel Referee: 2010-2013

78 Sydney Premier games

200 Hunter Rugby first grade games

450+ career games

Hunter Rugby

Premier 1

Round seven results:

  • Maitland d Hamilton Hawks 39-17
  • Merewether Carlton d Wanderers 52-22
  • University of Newcastle d Southern Beaches 38-12

Round eight draw:

Saturday 3 June

  • 3pm: Maitland v Wanderers (Marcellin Park)
  • 3pm: Merewether Carlton v University of Newcastle (Townson Oval)
  • 3pm: Southern Beaches v Hamilton Hawks (Ernie Calland Field 1)

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