When his rugby league career was cut short by an ACL injury in 2015, Bay of Plenty man Paki Parkinson was justifiably upset.

However, rather than sulk or feel sorry for himself, he found a way to stay as close to the action as possible - as a referee. He completed his level one refereeing course later that year and an eagerness to constantly learn and improve has seen him rise rapidly up the ranks.

This week his passion and dedication was recognised when he was named Match Official of the Year at the New Zealand Rugby League Awards.

Raised in Rotorua, Parkinson is a student of the game and first played for Ngongotaha, just as his father and grandfather did. He also spent time playing in Huntly, where he was born, before moving back to the Bay and playing for Otumoetai, for whom he was playing when he suffered his injury.


Since becoming a referee he has not looked back. He is a regular whistle-blower in the Bay of Plenty/Coastline Premier competition, has refereed in a range of national tournaments and in October was the main man in the transtasman women's test match at Mt Smart Stadium.

Parkinson said he was surprised, but honoured and humbled to win the award.

"I've played league my whole life, it's in the blood really. After the injury I was coaching my son's league team at the Papamoa Bulldogs and I thought I'd give refereeing a go, just for the junior leagues.

"After that I was invited to referee at the national rangatahi tournament, which was in Hawera that year, and from there I got the bug."

Paki Parkinson runs the sideline during the National Secondary Schools Rugby League finals day. Photo / Photosport NZ
Paki Parkinson runs the sideline during the National Secondary Schools Rugby League finals day. Photo / Photosport NZ

Being a referee allowed him to stay fit and give back to the game he loves.

"I also enjoy being able to give players better opportunities to get on the field and play.

"The highlight this year would definitely be the transtasman test, that was a major highlight. The Maori Tuakana finals are always a major for me as well, because it's players you don't normally get to referee at club level, they're a lot higher up in New South Wales Cup and even NRL."

Parkinson said before a game he focused on the job at hand and did not often suffer from nerves.


"You have to be confident in your own ability and game preparation is big for me. Going through scenarios and issues that might come up, that helps me be ready and not nervous."

The 34-year-old said his ultimate goal was to referee in the NRL.

"Obviously any aspiring referee wants to be in the NRL, age would be a factor in my situation, but I just need to keep putting my hand up for opportunities and nailing them when I do get the chance," he said.

The man who nominated Parkinson, Bay of Plenty Rugby League referees chairman Graeme Hill said his greatest strength was his constant desire to improve.

"Paki works extremely hard at what he does. He has transitioned from a player to a referee, he's done that extremely well, and in a short space of time he has basically excelled at the craft. His work ethic and his man management skills are second to none.

"He will continually analyse and review his own performances every week, he's always trying to learn, always trying to better himself. He made us aware as an association that he wanted to get to the top of refereeing in New Zealand and be able to do it from the Bay of Plenty.

"We're all extremely proud, it's quite humbling, I was happy to nominate him and get him in there," Hill said.