The NRL's top officials are set for a major boost to their annual salary after the referees union reached an agreement with the league, avoiding a potential strike.
Referees will see a significant increase in salary over the next four years as a result of the agreement, with NRL.com reporting salaries are set to rise by 30 per cent by 2022, with the top referees earning more than $300,000 each year. In 2018 the top officials earned around $180,000, NRL.com reports.
NRL head of elite football Graham Annesley told NRL.com the pay rise puts rugby league referees on a salary par with officials across any Australian sport.
"It's important that we acknowledge just what a critical role our match officials play in the Telstra Premiership week-in and week-out.
"We know that it's a much-maligned job and brings with it lots of criticism.
"But we simply can't have a credible Telstra Premiership without professional match officials helping to ensure that our game reaches the level we expect."
As well as a significant increase in salary, the NRL will give referees full-time access to a sports psychologist in 2019 as another condition of the agreement. In 2018, referees came under a lot of scrutiny for cracking down on penalties and the pressures of the game became too much for some.
Matt Cecchin announced he would be leaving the game after refereeing in the 2018 season because of the pressures that came with the job. However, his exit will be short-lived as he returns to officiate in reserve grade this weekend with a potential return to the top level as early as round two.
"That (abuse) received a bit of publicity last year and we've acted on that. We're very aware of the need to ensure their (referees) welfare is protected as much as possible," Annesley told NRL.com
"We all know it's a job that comes with a lot of criticism so no one is walking away from that fact so we need to do as much to support them."