Wilson Thrives After Late Ref Call-up
Jason Wilson’s call-up to control his first televised game at AMI Stadium on Sunday was a watershed moment in his refereeing career, but it wasn’t exactly an ideal lead-in for the Canterbury whistle-blower.
Auckland-based Jamal Thompson was scheduled to referee the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls’ clash with Counties Manukau Stingrays with Wilson and Chris Baker the touch judges, but Thompson’s withdrawal on game-day pitched Wilson into the hot-seat.
Dai Roberts had to make a late dash to run the lines with Baker.
Wilson, who refereed his first CRL premiers grand final last month, has controlled matches in the national competition before – but this was his debut under the glare of television cameras that highlight every little error.
“I was nervy, there’s no question about it,” Wilson said post-match.
“It’s a big game, Canterbury-Counties is always a big game and I prepared myself to be on the line.
“Two hours before kick-off I’d been doing an 80-kilometre cycle, so I wasn’t prepared at all (for refereeing the game) really.”
Wilson boasts 10 seasons as a ref on the Canterbury Rugby League scene, with roughly half of that time spent in the premiers ranks. But he said the NZRL National Premiership represented another step up.
“It’s definitely a quicker game (than club level), I just think the higher up you go it becomes a lot better, it’s a lot more structured, so the game was good.”
There were more than a couple of tricky calls to make during the frantic second half of the Stingrays’ 28-22 win over the Bulls, with the home side awarded two tries where the ball was forced perilously close to the touch in-goal line.
“I used my touchies – than were in a better position than I was,” Wilson explained.
“The ball was on my blindside, so I’ve got to go with them, they reckoned they were both tries. I guess the TV will tell if it was or it wasn’t.”
We’re happy to report the replays proved both tight decisions to be spot on.
Now that Wilson has a taste of the New Zealand rugby league big time, he’s keen to become a regular in the domestic competition.
“Most definitely, this is the pinnacle, this is where we want to get to,” he enthused.
“I got the grand final this year in Christchurch, so to have the opportunity to do this national competition is a huge honour and I greatly respect where I am at the moment.”
But amidst the milestones and landmarks, it’s impossible to escape the fact that refereeing can be a thankless task. Supporters often have little understanding or sympathy for how difficult the role is – particularly at grassroots level – while highly-publicised incidents and criticism of referees at the elite level have a trickle-down effect.
That’s why the support of respected figures like Frank Endacott, who publicly lauded the performances of Wilson and Gary Smallridge in the high-stakes CRL semi-final double-header at Murphy Park in July, is so invaluable.
“Unfortunately, we play park football and a lot of people watch NRL – the perception is not really the same,” Wilson said.
“We have to make a snap decision, we only have a second to think about it, there’s no third umpire for us to go to.
“What Frank has done for the referees is greatly admired and we’re really thankful.
“I suppose what people don’t realise is that we’re human, we make mistakes, but we actually make less than the players do – we don’t make knock-ons, we don’t miss tackles.
“But I’ve got to deal with 13 players on each side, so at the end of the day we’re more than likely going to miss stuff now and then, and it’s just part of the game. We can’t see everything.”
But that doesn’t mean Wilson and his refereeing colleagues are looking for excuses for poor performances; the game’s whistle-blowers are hard markers on themselves and are always striving to be better.
“I’d say I’m very, very critical on my own performance,” Wilson revealed.
“At the end of the day you are your own greatest critic, and that was certainly a tough game out there today and I’m just glad I had a chance to do it.”