Most rugby referees find their way to the whistle after calling time on their years of play.

Jackson Brierly has known he wanted to be a referee since he was 3 years old.

The Wellsford-based 15-year-old started helping the referees at a sub-union level when he was 11. He enjoyed it so much that three years later he trained to become a qualified referee.

"Refereeing has always been something I've enjoyed doing," Brierly said.


"Rugby is a sport I enjoy everything about so, when I was 14, I made the decision to actually start refereeing."

As a toddler, Brierly would be in his backyard, creating imaginary games with himself as the referee. After watching All Blacks tests, he would be running around, re-enacting the action he had seen the night before.

"As a kid, I would do things like run and then I'd clothesline myself, get up and blow an imaginary whistle and then I would call a player over and give him a red card.

"I wouldn't come inside if it was dinner time until the timer said it was halftime or fulltime. I would even get my little sister to be my pretend water carrier."

It was this passion which drove Brierly towards refereeing. While he was a keen rugby player, Brierly was relatively small for his age, but he still wanted to be involved in the sport.

"I've been fortunate not to have any big injuries but I'd always get hit pretty hard, so I thought, 'Why not do something else and stay a part of the game'."

Jackson Brierly acts as an assistant referee in a game between Northland women's v Waikato women's in Wellsford last year. Photo / Supplied
Jackson Brierly acts as an assistant referee in a game between Northland women's v Waikato women's in Wellsford last year. Photo / Supplied

Brierly's first game officiating was in the under-11 grade where referees often act more as coaches rather than officials. However, for Brierly, the game threw at him something he did not expect.

"At the end of the game, one boy got a bit frustrated and kicked out at another boy on the ground. I had to send him off so that was the first time I'd had anything like that."


In one season, Brierly has moved up two age grades in his refereeing ability. He credited his rise through the ranks to having the opportunity to be wired up and have a mentor referee give him advice while on the field.

"I remember in my first game I would stand half a metre away from the action and it was way too close but, once I had someone in my ear, it put me in a good position for the rest of the season."

Brierly said it was his ability to communicate with players which made him a good referee, particularly in the younger grades.

"There's no point in just blowing your whistle, making a hand signal and giving no explanation. You've got to give them a good explanation because a lot them don't know some of the rules."

While he hadn't dealt with much sideline abuse from supporters, Brierly said he was fairly comfortable dealing with angry parents or coaches.

"If there's people giving it to you from the sideline, you just go over to them and offer for them to do your job and that usually keeps them quiet."

He said referees like Welshman Nigel Owens and Australian Angus Gardner were among his idols because of the character they brought to the game, while continuing to be excellent referees.

Brierly said he hoped he would progress through the grades in the next few years and get the chance to referee in different places around New Zealand to gain experience.

Northland rugby referees association coaching director Llew Smart said Brierly had the skills to go far in rugby refereeing.

"[Brierly] is only bound by how far he's willing to go. I think he's got the potential to go right to the top with the right attitude, fitness and training.

Smart said Brierly's assets were his game knowledge and his temperament when dealing with players on the park and adults on the sideline. Smart said that while Brierly wouldn't get too much hassle from the sideline in his current grade, the young referee was equipped to manage any situation.

"That stuff tends to come from overzealous parents or supporters and he will be subjected to it but we've had really positive feedback in regards to how he controls the game and how he spoke to the kids."

Smart said he hoped to see Brierly refereeing at the top local level in the coming years.

"I'd hope to see him up in senior rugby in five years but it all depends. He went up two grades this year and handled it really well so I don't see him being hamstrung by his age."