Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

League: Perenara's decision to be ref 'best move' of his life

Henry Perenara, 32, has cracked the top ranks in refereeing. Photo / Getty Images
Henry Perenara, 32, has cracked the top ranks in refereeing. Photo / Getty Images

Henry Perenara doesn't put it this way, but the drift is clear. All but one of the important people in his life thought he was mad, quitting a top-drawer league career at 27 to become a referee.

The Aucklander, a loose forward who played one test for the Kiwis against France, was still supposedly in the middle of a career that had notched up 70-odd NRL games for clubs including the Warriors and Melbourne. Only his wife, Tina, believed blowing time to take up the whistle was a great idea. Even Henry doubted the wisdom.

Six years on, it's the "best move" he ever made. The 32-year-old is a regular NRL referee, has cracked the test ranks, and was a video official for the opening State of Origin clash. Perenara, who lives in Cronulla, talks to the Weekend Herald.

Q: So where did this referee business start?

The NRL wanted ex-players involved ... I'd already applied for a job as a league development officer in west Sydney.

I'd had two shoulder reconstructions, an ankle done, could hardly pick my 2-year-old up after a game of footy. I thought I was going to a question-and-answer session about being a referee but it was a full-on interview with (top NRL officials) David Gallop, Graham Annesley, Robert Finch, Michael Buettner, Steve Clark ... I couldn't believe it. Afterwards they said "congratulations". They gave me two days to think about it. I thought geez ... I was contracted at Cronulla and my dad (Auckland league identity Bernie Perenara) thought I was quitting in my prime. Tina said it was a great opportunity. I bit the bullet and went for it.

Q: Are you a trailblazer for Kiwi kids?

If I help young kids aspire to something I'm all for that, and being Maori and Polynesian, we're always looking for big role models. If that's what they need me to be, to get more refs in Auckland and the NRL, then great. But I shy away from that trailblazer stuff.

A mixed heritage there ...My dad is half Maori - he's half Australian as well but we try to keep that a bit quiet. Mum is half Samoan so it's a mix. My first cousin is (Hurricanes halfback) TJ Perenara. His dad is Thomas Perenara, my dad's brother, who was a Junior Kiwi and a (New Zealand) softballer. TJ is an amazing talent and I've got no doubt at all that he's going to become an excellent All Black and overtake my one Kiwi test. We have a joke in the family about who is number one. But that means nothing when we play backyard cricket at Christmas.

Q: Your highlight as a player?

Playing for New Zealand in front of mum and dad and the whole family and alongside one of my best mates Monty Betham at Ericsson Stadium. I was at Melbourne then and 30 people were going to fly over for my 21st but that went pear-shaped when I made the test team. We held it a week later and the club was great, using their contacts to change the flights and accommodation.

Q: Your childhood hero?

Steve Kearney. I was lucky enough to play with him at Melbourne and in my only test, and I've reffed his teams. I got loads of stick for putting him down as my hero in profiles. The players thought it was a joke at first. I couldn't have picked a better role model, as a player and person.

Q: Did you enjoy the State of Origin experience and what was your role as assistant video referee?

It was a huge honour and I suppose a bit of a feather in the cap. They've got ex-footballers involved with video reffing - there is one at every game to basically deal with the obstruction rule. We are a review, not a decision, system and we lean on the live decision by the referee in the really tough ones when evidence is inconclusive.

Q: Why do referees refer to players by name these days ... and how do you remember everyone?

I'm a big name caller. You get so much better results.

It's your job to know who they are and touch judges help - they write names or whole team lists on strapping wrapped around their flags.

Ricky MacFarlane has done over 100 games and has the strapping from every game still around his flag.

It's like a 3kg dumbbell.

Q: Is he superstitious?

I used to be terrible as a player.

I was so meticulous.

I always did the same things before a game ...

I had to have six pieces of toast for breakfast.

When you live with a couple of blokes and the bread is few and far between, that can be a struggle.

- NZ Herald

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