Q&A: James Cross talks about refereeing in the south

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Referees haven’t had great reviews this season from rugby league fans and have often been one of the key talking points after matches, especially those which have been decided by a controversial call.

However, it is fair to say that without officials the game wouldn’t exist and a shortage of people willing to take up refereeing has often been mentioned. Indeed, Huddersfield Giants’ Danny Brough had to step in recently to allow a junior match to take place after an official didn’t turn up.

That instance was, obviously, in Yorkshire, one of the rugby league heartlands, where there are referees for most matches. In London, however, that is a huge issue as the game aims to grow in and around the capital. St Helens fan James Cross is chairman of the London and SE Rugby League Referees society and wanted to answer some questions to discuss refereeing in the south…

How did you first come to love rugby league

Coming from one of the heartland towns, St Helens, I was brought up on Rugby League.
I would go to games as a kid or watch them on TV and quickly fell in love with the game.

How did you get involved with RL and, later, with the London and South East rugby league referees association?

I played as a young kid here and there, but at the age of 12 I came across an advert in the
local paper for the local referees society. A friend and I went to one of their meetings, and 17 years later I am still enjoying it. It is a different buzz to playing in that you have more responsibility, and have to keep a calm head! I moved about a bit , living in New Zealand, Glasgow and now London. All great refereeing experiences, especially New Zealand as although the game has a similar ethos, it was interesting to learn the local customs within the sport. I finally settled in London and joined the Southern Referees’ Society after speaking with a friend who was a member. After a year I was voted in as society chairman, still filling the role now with a great committee of rugby league lovers.

How have you seen the game develop and grow in recent years? Why do you think this is?

From a refereeing point of view, the game has developed a lot. It has embraced change
particularly with its use of technology, somethings other sports are just getting to grips
with. I also think that changing the amateur season to a summer league has worked
wonders, particularly in the south. I think it has allowed the game to grow here as more
people are attracted to playing a code of rugby in the sun, particularly those who may
play rugby union in the winter months.

Do you feel that the game is suitably supported in your region by the governing
bodies?

Rugby League is a growing game in the south of England, and the governing body have
worked well to market this to people who may not have been brought up with the sport.
With officials they have helped us with development and ideas, and we are in regular
contact with them discussing ways we can help the game grow,

As a referees’ organisation, what are the regular problems you encounter currently 
and how do you feel they could be improved?

Currently in the South we have a problem with numbers, put simply. We have a dedicated society recruitment and retention officer who works hard speaking to people and getting them involved in the game, it is hard particularly in the predominantly rugby union areas, however we have had a lot of interest from this area. The other problem we encounter is that we have to cover an area in the South East twice the size of Yorkshire, with one society. Granted there are less clubs in our region but this large area makes it hard for everyone to meet as a group, so we make full use of the internet and other various communication tools.

How do you feel the sport is existing alongside RU down south? Can they both succeed?

I play rugby union myself, and I like to see rugby league clubs share with Rugby Union
clubs, I think these partnerships work well owing partly to the offset seasons. I think that
a lot of people have come into our sport to ‘give it a go’, and ended up loving it. This has
helped to remove a lot of the so called ‘banter’ or stigma between codes.

As a referees’ organisation, what different things have you done/do you do to try to recruit officials? Do you feel it is harder for you than similar bodies in the heartlands?

Currently we recruit by word of mouth and by advertising our course online whether that be through our website or our social media accounts. Being a minority game in this part of the world as a society we have found it difficult to source sponsorship for our
development goals, but we have a great core of volunteers who put a large amount of
effort into the cause – and this is something our game can be proud of. We distribute
advice via WhatsApp and have discussions when the Super League games are shown on
TV. For next year we have great aspirations with some new ideas on the development
front, hopefully involving a few well known clubs. Links with other societies is also
another avenue we are looking at, we currently have a good relationship with GB Armed
Forces Rugby League, and it would be great to work with them going forward.

Do you feel it will be long before a Southern referee is in Super League?

We currently have a handful of graded officials, one of which is a grade 1. He has shown
great talent on the pitch and I am sure he will follow in the foot steps of our last Super
League referee, Ashley Klein.

If anybody reading this in the south is interested in getting involved in refereeing, there is a refereeing course on Sunday August 19th at Bedford Rugby League Club. Click HERE to find out more.

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