Rebecca Mahoney is chuffed to become the first woman to referee a men's first-class rugby fixture this weekend – but she insists it's all about performing on her merits.

The former Black Ferns international will be blowing the whistle at Te Aroha on Saturday where Thames Valley and Buller square off. She has two more Heartland Championship matches lined up but in this year of the suffragettes, don't call her a trailblazer for women dipping toes into the men's game.

In her book, Mahoney should be ranked purely on her ability.

"For me, yes it's great for New Zealand that I am the first female, but I don't see it like that," Mahoney said.


"It's the next game, the next step for me and I've worked really hard for it."

Mahoney, who played first five-eighth in two World Cups in 2006 and 2010 as part of 16 games for the Black Ferns, decided she wanted to try refereeing when she stopped playing.

"I had a young family, two young girls, and I just wanted to stay in the game. I wanted another challenge for myself," she said.

Mahoney, 35, was one of two women in the high performance referee national squad this year.

"Being involved in a high performance environment has really accelerated her development and this appointment is a great achievement," referees' manager Bryce Lawrence said.

"We hope it inspires other female referees, or people thinking about taking up refereeing to see what you can achieve."

Since 2015 she has officiated in Hong Kong, Dubai, Japan, Canada, the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and the World Cup in San Francisco.

"I've been so fortunate. It's hard work but the opportunities are amazing.


"It was a personal goal for myself, something I could chip away with and see how far I could get as an individual."

Mahoney and husband Luke lease 1300 acres of hill country, farming sheep and beef at Alfredton, about 18km east of Eketahuna. It's a busy life and Mahoney appeals as someone who wouldn't have it any other way.

She laughed that "I wouldn't have been my favourite player to referee", admitting she was one of those many players who felt they often knew better than the whistler.

She is grateful that she has come into the game as a referee at a time when the women's game is making significant strides.

"There was no world series when I was playing so I am fortunate and that's one reason I decided to have a go because of the opportunities in front of me."

Mahoney knows there is still a view that women should not be officiating in men's rugby and that's fine by her.

"People will have their opinions and that's okay. We are the greatest referees from the armchair.

"I don't feel the pressure or expectation, any more than the guys in the (national) squad.

"I'm definitely open to whatever else is out there but I know I need to prove I deserve more and I'm just like all the other boys out there."