World Cup call-up for CQ rugby league ref
RUGBY LEAGUE: Rockhampton's Belinda Sleeman's efforts to become the first female NRL referee have been boosted by her selection to officiate at the World Cup.
Queenslander Sleeman was considered unlucky not to make her first grade refereeing debut this year after being a touch judge in the NRL, including in the finals series as well as the Queensland Cup final.
But the Queenslander has a chance for a top job at the October-November tournament, having been included in the pool of officials who will find out their roles over the next fortnight.
"As a player, the pinnacle is to represent your country and it's no different for match officials,” Sleeman said.
"These are all exciting opportunities for me. Being involved in international games, they're all great opportunities for me to grow and develop as a referee.
"It can be a little different to the regular games, so I'm certainly looking forward to the challenge that environment will bring.”
The NRL has come under criticism this season for being supposedly reluctant to appoint a female referee as candidates Sleeman and Kasey Badger continued their development while some of their colleagues were derided for their performances.
Sleeman backed the league's handling of appointments despite it being three years since her debut as a sideline official.
"I'm comfortable with the season this year and ending the year with a spot in the NRL semi-finals series,” she said.
"I want to get an opportunity because I've earned it.
"It's the old cliche of week-to-week, making sure I'm improving.”
NRL and World Cup referees boss Tony Archer said Sleeman would get a top job when she was deemed ready.
"She's there based on merit, not because she's a female,” Archer said.
"Whether they're male or female, they've got to be ready. It's not something you do overnight.
"Her development is on track. When she's ready to referee in the NRL, the opportunity will come. But she's got to compete like everyone else.”
Referees from the NRL and English Super League will make up the officials pool for the World Cup.