Rugby referees as young as 16 are embarking on a potential career path in charge of the whistle as Hawke's Bay Rugby Union puts out the call for more young refs to get involved.

There is a shortage of referees in the region. The situation hasn't yet reached crisis point but, last weekend, senior rugby Third Division fixtures were refereed by associate referees or self-refereed by clubs.

Hawke's Bay Rugby Referee Education Officer Keith Groube says: ''This has been on the cards for some time now.

"While we have a number of referees who sometimes officiate three games a weekend, we simply cannot rely on the same guys refereeing week in, week out.''

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For the past few years, members of Hawke's Bay Rugby's wider training squad and players involved in the women's high-performance group have offered to referee lower level secondary school fixtures and to run as assistant referees at premier fixtures.

HBRU is now eyeing a longer-term solution and wants to encourage younger referees to get involved.

HBRU chief executive Jay Campbell says: "It's important that we start investing time and energy now into recruiting young dedicated referees who are keen to stay connected to the game, but perhaps not in a playing capacity."

For high performers, refereeing can become a career, and it is also a way to stay connected to rugby at the community level.

Several secondary school-aged referees are gradually earning their stripes as they embark on their refereeing career.

The Hawke's Bay Rugby Referees Association (HBRRA) introduces the young referees to officiating at the lower echelons of secondary school rugby.

Lazhon Maxwell started refereeing 3 years ago while a student at Napier Boys' High School.
Lazhon Maxwell started refereeing 3 years ago while a student at Napier Boys' High School.

Lazhon Maxwell started refereeing three years ago while a student at Napier Boys' High School.

"I absolutely love rugby and this is my way of keeping involved in the game. I enjoy refereeing each Saturday and I want to see how far I can go with it."

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At the premier level, Hawke's Bay Rugby is spoiled for choice with at least five referees with first-class experience to call on.

Of the five, Tipene Cottrell and Stu Catley started reffing while still at school.

Referee Stu Catley signals a try in a Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV v Tauranga Boys' encounter.
Referee Stu Catley signals a try in a Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV v Tauranga Boys' encounter.

Catley, who attended Central Hawke's Bay College, started at 16 and has gradually made his way up to knocking on the door of national selection.

A police officer, Catley has refereed at national 7s tournaments.

"I played rugby for a few years but unfortunately, after a few injuries, I decided to give up playing. To keep involved I thought I would try my hand at refereeing and, through feedback, was told I seemed to be a natural.

"This inspired me to put more into my refereeing, I have been very fortunate to have achieved refereeing nationally and overseas.

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''It's certainly a great way to stay fit and stay involved in the great game of rugby.''

Cottrell, who also played 1st XV rugby for Napier Boys' High School and premier rugby for Napier Tech, started refereeing at the tender age of 10 and is tipped to make it to Super Rugby level and beyond.

After a hiatus in his late teens to concentrate on playing, Cottrell is now focused on his refereeing career.

He has refereed overseas at 7s tournaments and is part of a national squad from which Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup referee and assistant referee appointments are made.

"I would encourage anyone who is interested to give it a go, as it's very rewarding and it is providing me with plenty of opportunities.''

Groube advises anyone interested in taking up the whistle to contact him at HB Rugby.

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