CRL REFEREE PROFILE: OWEN HARVEY
One of the longest-serving of Canterbury Rugby League’s current brigade of referees, Owen Harvey is in his 10th season with the whistle in our region. But his journey in officiating the game spans four provinces and almost three decades.
Dunedin-born Harvey started as a player, turning out for Kia Toa Tigers and South Coast Dolphins in the Otago competition during the 1990s before injury intervened – and opened up a new rugby league avenue.
“My old boss, Tana Grant, was a referee and asked if I wanted to come and try it out,” Harvey recalls.
“He got me a whistle, a rulebook, and basically I’ve never looked back.”
Harvey began as a touch judge in 1997 and became a fulltime premiers referee the following season. After a stint in Blenheim, where he joined the Nelson-Marlborough refereeing ranks, he moved to Palmerston North.
Ten years as a Manawatu ref took him to Otaki, Bulls, Taranaki and Wellington, while in a career highlight he controlled a Test match between the New Zealand and Australian Defence Force teams.
Since arriving in Christchurch in 2013, Harvey has been an invaluable supporter of women’s rugby league and young referees. He launched a junior referees development program in 2017 – leading to his daughters, Chloe and Mackenzie, both picking up the whistle – and has been involved in the past five CRL Women’s Premiership grand finals.
“The women’s game needs premier referees or ex-premier referees to (help provide) pathways to become better league players,” Harvey says.
“It’s important to have decent quality referees – not just use the women’s competition as a learning pool for referees, which is unfair on the girls.
“That’s one reason I’ve concentrated on the women’s game. Plus they respect referees a lot more, opposed to what I find in the men’s game.”
Mackenzie, who is lining up for Riccarton Knights’ 16s girls team this year, still runs the lines for her dad on occasion.
Harvey credits Grant and Otago Rugby League stalwart Tufele Taufa, who sadly passed away in 2019, as having the biggest influence on his refereeing, while he also paid tribute to everyone “who has helped me through my career and pushed me to where I’ve got to today.”
But a referee has to forge their own approach to the craft, Harvey believes, and bring their unique personality to officiating rugby league.
“Every referee has their own style – it’s a hard one to put into a category. Rugby league to me is the easiest game to play, in that the referee tells you exactly what he wants.
“Either the players listen to us, or they don’t. So in some ways you’re out there as a coach as well as a referee. But some of the spectators don’t understand how we’re coached off the field as referees.”
Canterbury Rugby League, whose match officials are proudly sponsored by valued supporters NZ MEP Fabrications, is encouraging anyone interested in exploring refereeing to give it a crack – there’s a tremendous support network available for roles that are part of the lifeblood of the game and can be extremely rewarding.
Harvey outlines some of the positive aspects of refereeing, including some that were perhaps unexpected but have had a constructive impact on his work and personal life.
“The fitness side of it, the camaraderie, friends that I’ve met all across the country and getting to meet new people – and just coming off the field satisfied that I’ve (performed) to the best of my ability each time I go out there is one of the most important things.
“And you don’t necessarily have to take up the whistle; there’s nothing wrong with being a touch judge, there’s still a lot of pathways for touch judges too.
“It also helps in your job and in life as well – (learning) man-management skills, people skills, on and off the field. I was never a good talker to people in a room, whereas now I can.
“It’s a good stress reliever too – it’s not every day you get to and boss around 26 people on any given day!”