Modern-day sports nutritionists will cringe when they read this article.

Hawke's Bay rugby league referee Andy Cracknell or "Sinbin Andy" as he is better known, reckons plenty of ice cream is one of the main reasons he has been able to referee for 40 consecutive seasons. The former Flaxmere Falcons loosie first took up refereeing in 1979, the same year he started netball umpiring, and he has not missed a season in either code since.

"Heaps of ice cream and plenty of vinegar too," Cracknell said with a huge grin.

While Cracknell, 67, controls lower grade senior matches in netball these days he is still ranked among the province's top three rugby league referees, a position he has held since the early 1980s. Last weekend he was in charge of the women's grade fixture which saw Tamatea beat YMP 32-10 and this weekend he will control a premier reserve grade match as well as the women's grade fixture.

Advertisement

"For the last couple of seasons I've taken things year by year and if the body holds up I'll be back again next season in both codes," Cracknell said.

The father of three and grandfather of seven again proved why his nickname is so appropriate when he sinbinned a player at the weekend.

"There was only one and that was for talking back which I don't like. There could have been another couple but it was an entertaining flowing game which I enjoyed," Cracknell recalled.

His interpretation of the 10-metre rule on the league field is legendary.

"I love an open game and have always had a big 10 metres, some say it's 15 metres. Smart players and coaches adjust ... they know I'm consistent with it," Cracknell explained.

The 2009 Ngati Kahungunu active kaumatua award recipient has never agreed with the two-referee system used in NRL fixtures.

"There are too many mistakes and there is still too much reliance on the television match official," Cracknell said.

Just as his longevity as an official in both codes is admirable so his ability to keep the score in his head when on duty in both.

Advertisement

"I've never been one for a pencil and paper or pencil and cardboard."

A team leader in the freezers at Silver Fern Farms Pacific plant at Whakatu for the past 43 years, Cracknell, ranked a premier final between Taradale Eagles and the Napier Bulldogs in the mid-90s as his best Bay club league game.

"It was a thrilling close encounter which had everything and it was played in front of 3000 spectators," he recalled.

Cracknell always rated former world No 1 and Aussie kingpin Bill Harrigan as his favourite league ref.

"He was the man and is still the man ... everyone knew what he was doing."

On the netball scene, the Bay's former international umpire Pauline Sciascia had the biggest influence on Cracknell's umpiring.

"There has yet to be another in her class to come out of the Bay," he remarked.

For the past four or five years he has umpired netball games involving the Diamonds team.

"They are a good bunch of girls. Sometimes I get asked to do other games but it's mainly their's.

Unlike many referees, Cracknell does not do any gym work.

"All the heavy lifting I do in the freezers is my gym work. I don't do any warm-ups either ... just like in my playing days I come straight out of the shed and into the game," he said.

Ironically his refereeing career began after he was ordered off a netball court.

"I was down at the old Sylvan Road netball courts in Hastings watching a game and I got ordered off the court for being too vocal. I told the umpire I didn't like her umpiring so after two warnings she told me to get over the fence.

"I was told to go to umpiring classes and be an umpire myself, so I did and I've never looked back," Cracknell recalled.

In the 90s, it was common for the Paki Paki-raised Cracknell to umpire up to six netball games in a morning before heading off to control a premier or premier reserve grade game of league. For the past 30 years he has also been an indoor netball umpire and he can often control up to four games a night three nights a week.

A former touch referee, Cracknell, ran out of time to stick with this code as well as his league and netball commitments. While he believed it would be too hard for him to single out the best male league player he has seen in the Bay he ranked long-serving Tamatea player Deidre Hakopa as the best female to play in the Bay.

"She scored a try at the weekend, set up another couple and had a massive defensive workrate," Cracknell recalled.

We could not end our chat with Cracknell without getting him to name his Unicorns team, a selection containing what he considered the best players in their respective positions during his days with the whistle. It is:

Peter Cordtz, Shane Foster, Maurice Cook, Dexter Traill, Richard Broughton, Tip Heretaunga, Larry Jacobs, Len Mataira, Peter Harmer, Mark Taurima, Ngavii Pekepo, Neil O'Dowd, Willie Tiopira.