Current Group 10 referee Terry Sahyoun says something needs to change if another generation of whistle-blowers is to succeed and ensure rugby league in the bush doesn't bite the dust.
Mr Sahyoun has refereed hundreds of matches in multiple areas and Groups across NSW and says he's been elbowed, abused and threatened while out in the middle, or on his way from the field, while holding a whistle.
He says this abuse hasn't deterred him from getting out there in the middle each week, but it's having a massive impact on numbers in general.
Particularly those in the junior ranks, who say they "don't have the time" to learn the trade, but Mr Sahyoun believes there's another reason.
"They've seen what it's like," he said.
"They know they're not going to get much support. We're trying to attract young referees, but you can't.
"I had people sitting in front of my car waiting for me to leave the grounds - at Rickwood Park over at St George - and I had to stay at the canteen for almost two hours helping them to pack up because this guy just wouldn't leave.
"I was talking to an ex-referee in the tunnel of Kandos Waratah Park and one player just went past and elbowed me right in the ribcage. The other referee saw it and just gave me a blank look."
Despite these setbacks, he still maintains his passion for refereeing and finds a way to see the funny side.
Mr Sahyoun said there is a culture among many players and spectators that it's the referee's fault if the game doesn't go their way.
"I've had lunatics - I was doing a night match in Lithgow years ago where they guy picked the ball up and threw the ball and hit the props head - I said 'mate, I'm gonna put you on the bench' and his reply was 'you can't do a thing to me', that's the attitude you get."
He says one of the key changes he would make is holding players and teams to account for their actions with harsher penalties.
... if they see that going on, how the hell are we going to get junior referees coming into seniors over the next year?Group 10 referee Terry Sahyoun
"At a final last year I was going up to the change room - my touch judge copped a hell of lot of abuse - then I copped a lot because I intervened - on the day they just want to attack you, they don't care what the protocol is," he said.
"We [referees] go by protocol, because if I did something outside of that protocol I get my ass kicked and it should be the same thing for players, like we're not really backed by judiciaries anywhere.
"In Sydney the judiciaries are a lot harder. You might take a person in for an offence they might cop 4 to 8 weeks. Up here they'd be lucky to get one, it does us no good."
And, Mr Sahyoun says, in the long run it'll do the game no good.
He believes a culture of blaming the referee and a lack of appropriate consequences for players, teams and spectators is discouraging younger potential referees from seeing their early years through as his generation ages out of the profession.
"It makes it hard for us, but it makes it harder for juniors coming up. You normally try them on the touch line to see how they perform in senior football and if they see that going on, how the hell are we going to get junior referees coming into seniors over the next year," he added.
"I reckon we've virtually halved our senior referees over the last five years because no one wants to referee anymore.
"You bump into young kids on the street or at another sport. And you ask if they're refereeing next year and they say 'no, I haven't got time'.
Mr Sahyoun has been able to think a lot about what can be done to help change the way games are managed in regional competitions. He said management in city games are more focused on ground management.
"They monitored the ground and they used to fine the clubs for not doing the right thing. Like if the trainers weren't at the bench side like they were supposed to be they'd cop a $50 fine.
"I've had to stop games. I could hear the coach yelling abuse at me. So I stopped the game, I said 'mate, go outside the ground I don't want to hear you anymore.' He held up the game for 4 to 5 minutes before somebody got rid of him. It was affecting the players, they were responding to what he was saying and it became difficult in my position to control them.
Rugby league is dying in the country, that could be through the violence or people not enjoying it.Terry Sahyoun
"Spectators are always going to have a bit of passion - 'go Sharks', 'go Dragons', whatever, but when people come and start abusing you because their team has been on the backfoot for whatever reason they blame you, that element has to stop.
"I'd like to see an official there once every so often to see what what everybody's putting up with.
"Some structure has to be put there. I'm not big on administration when it comes to clubs and all that but I feel that something like that's got to be done.
"Rugby league is dying in the country, that could be through the violence or people not enjoying it because people like to turn up and watch a game without somebody hurling abuse."
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