Ref on the rise: Teen eyes career in the big league
RUGBY LEAGUE: Luke Fletcher is the latest star to rise from the ranks of the Rockhampton Rugby League.
But rather than making his mark as a flashy halfback or tough-tackling front rower, he is emerging as one of the game's best referees.
The 19-year-old made an impressive A-grade debut last weekend in the Norths Chargers/Gladstone Brothers game, and will take centre stage this weekend at the QRL Central Division Junior Carnival in Gladstone.
"I was happy with how the game went and hopefully I did a good enough job to get another crack,” he said of his first A-grade appearance.
"While there were a few nerves it was pretty exciting refereeing at that level. It was a lot different to games I'd done before.”
Fletcher played rugby league as a junior with Brothers but completing his Level 1 referees course at age 14 was to set his sporting career on a different course.
He started with the whistle in under-six games and has continued to work his way through the ranks, officiating in various grades in the local competition, at a host of rep carnivals and in the state-wide Mal Meninga Cup.
Fletcher said his goal was to keep progressing, with the aim of making it to the Intrust Super Cup and ultimately the NRL.
"I just want to keep striving for that higher level and the NRL, that's the pinnacle you want to get to,” he said.
Fletcher has quickly learned to handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere in the middle and believes there are higher expectations on referees to perform than on players.
He is constantly looking to improve his performance and closely watches referees at the highest level.
Fletcher says refereeing is both physically and mentally demanding but he loves the challenge.
"It's taught me different things but one of the biggest is how to deal with people, especially in pressure situations,” he said.
"I really enjoy going away to carnivals and I cherish the friendships I've made. I have mates all over Queensland now and it's great to go away and catch up with them.”
Fletcher (pictured) said one of the toughest games he has refereed was last year's open schoolboys clash between rugby league powerhouses St Brendan's and Kirwan High.
"It was a very fast game and they really kept me on my toes.
"Open schoolboys is one of the divisions I most enjoy because there's plenty of passion and they really give everything they've got,” he said.
RRL Referees Association coach John Quinn said Fletcher's success was thoroughly deserved.
"He works very hard and he's willing to listen,” he said. "He has a thirst for knowledge and is always wanting to learn and that's a big plus.
"There's a lot of scrutiny on referees and a lot of expectations and Luke's handled that very well.
"He has come all the way through the ranks and is definitely one of our success stories.”
Quinn said the referees association was always on the lookout for new recruits, and was keen to get former players involved.
"We've got a number of young refs coming through but it would be great to get retired players involved because they obviously have a knowledge of the game already.”
Anyone interested can contact John Quinn on 0404475446.