Referee Tim Booth sends off Casino captain-coach Roy Bell in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League preliminary final against Murwillumbah last Sunday.
Referee Tim Booth sends off Casino captain-coach Roy Bell in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League preliminary final against Murwillumbah last Sunday. Ursula Bentley@CapturedAus

NRRRL: Meet the man in the middle

EXPERIENCED referee Tim Booth will officiate in his first Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final in the top grade when Ballina plays Murwillumbah on Sunday.

Booth returned to the referee ranks this season after four years out of the game.

He had spent time in the Queensland Cup as a referee and touch judge from 2008 to 2011 and was also part of the National Youth Competition (NRL Under-20s).

The 31-year-old was in the Queensland high performance squad during that time and has also been in charge of games in England.

Snapping his achilles tendon in 2011 slowed him down before he returned to the NRRRL for the next three seasons.

"It's something I've always enjoyed doing and I originally came back this season just to help out because of the depleted numbers," Booth said.

"I feel like I've had a good year and I'm really looking forward to getting to do a grand final. I'll have a good team around me on the day and there are some talented young referees starting to come through."

Booth trains at least three days a week to stay fit and missed only four games this season after a calf tear.

He has a thick skin when it comes to crowd abuse but believes it is a massive problem in country rugby league.

He is not afraid to make the tough calls, which was highlighted when he sent off Casino captain-coach Roy Bell for a stray elbow in the preliminary final last Sunday.

The NRRRL judiciary this week suspended Bell for three games.

There was also a game between Cudgen and Kyogle early this season which was called off early due to poor crowd behaviour - the first time he has had to do that.

"The conduct from some spectators is probably the worst it's been but in saying that the NRRRL are doing all they can to combat it," Booth said.

"One of the major things as a referee is player safety and making sure these guys get to work healthy on Monday.

"We also have a duty to uphold the rules of rugby league and it is a big responsibility."

Booth expects the likes of Corey Cox, Brad Goodwin and Harrison Hunter to continue rising through the ranks in coming years.

"Harrison was a touch judge last week and he clocked himself having run 7.8km," Booth said. "I would have covered anywhere between 9-11 km and we're making decisions under fatigue with not much rest; it's definitely not easy."

The NRRRL still has experienced first grade referees in Josh Gollan and Troy Martin while former Marist Brothers and Kyogle player Paul Latta is also now doing games in the top grade.