The Golden Years and Ellipse

The last big Brisbane Rugby League grand final was played in 1987, where the unofficial attendance was 40,000. This contrasted dramatically with the 1988 grand final, the year the Broncos had entered the New South Wales Rugby League competition, only 13,000 people attended. This represented a dramatic shift in the history of rugby league in Brisbane1. The decade saw the emergence of the two most successful referees from Brisbane, both with differing styles but with undisputed flair. Edward “Eddie” Ward LM, officiated a record eight BRL grand finals in a period from 1977 to 1987. David Manson LM, closed into this record, by achieving six BRL grand finals in the period from 1984 to 1991, matching the record set by Henry Albert LM.

Eddie Ward LM, discussing options date unknown.

David Manson LM, the 1991 State of Origin Game 2.

Eddie Ward LM, at the right place date unknown.

David Manson LM, in control c1985.

In 1982, the QRL formed the State League, where the top grade Brisbane clubs played in a weekly competition against regional sides based on the top graded competitions in Queensland of the time and thus representing a statewide competition. Between 1991 and 1995, the State League became regional based. By 1996 the club format was re-introduced and the Queensland Cup was founded. During the first decade of State League, David Manson LM, officiated four grand finals, with the “grasshopper” Barry Gomersall (based in Mackay, but registered with Brisbane) having the honour of three grand finals. Barry mainly from his unique perspective of the game and national exposure at State of Origin attracted plenty of media interest.

The association became incorporated in 1983 and also the traditional badge became a “Q”symbol.

Many would argue that the game has changed over the years, but the Brisbane Division Junior Rugby League 1983 annual report carried a judiciary committee report where 101 charges were made by referees being:

  • 21 Punching;
  • 17 Attacking head;
  • 15 Obscene Language to Referee;
  • 10 Kicking;
  • 8 Fighting;
  • 6 Obscene Gesture to the Referee;
  • 3 Kneeing;
  • 3 Obscene Language;
  • 3 Spear Tackle;
  • 3 Swearing;
  • 2 Abusive Language to Referee;
  • 2 Breaking Laws of the game;
  • 2 Disputing Referees’ decision;
  • 1 Elbowing;
  • 1 Head Butting; and
  • 1 Head High Tackle.

The dispute occurred in 1986 over the composition of the BRL Appointment Board when the BRL rejected one of the nominees from the Association and replaced the nominee with a member rejected by the Association without any reference to the Association. The Management Committee met with the BRL Board of Directors to no avail and the appointment stood. The Association appealed to the QRL but this was dismissed and they arranged a meeting attended by Chairman and General Manager (QRL); Chairman and Executive Officer (BRL); and President and Secretary (BRLRA). As a result a Board was elected consisting of G Crouch (Independent Chairman); Ron Daley LM, Alan Delandelles LM, Tony McGrath LM and Bob Wise LM, three temporary members and one proxy. Also in 1986, the Brisbane Division Referees’ appointment board adopted a policy of granting grand final appointments to the referees’ officiating in that grade during the season as opposed to the A or reserve grade referees. This policy continued to 1993, however, there was almost constant changes season to season to the composition, roles and numbers on the appointment board and even the formation of review boards to oversee the allocations.

With the expansion of the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) competition (which saw the Brisbane Broncos being admitted), Les Sainsbury LM was appointed a member of the NSWRL Referees’ Advisory Board from 1988-1992. This role involved the assessing of performance of the referees and touch judges at NSWRL matches played at Lang Park and Seagulls Stadium. In this era, appointments to this grounds were telephoned to Les who then pass this on to the referees involved. Les continued in this liaison role until the end of 1997.

There were other structural changes to the local game where during 1991-1992 the Brisbane Second Division Rugby League Incorporated was formed when the League became an Incorporated Association. The association itself in 1993 formally changed its name to the Brisbane Rugby League Referees’ Association, from the previous Queensland Rugby League Brisbane Division Referees’ Association, to improve the image and identity for its members.

However, rugby league was changing and the emergence of the New South Wales Premiership based in Sydney, which effectually became national The expansion of the premier competition allowed Brisbane referees to participate, with both David and Eddie marking their contributions at the undisputed highest levels. In 1995, the national premiership was revamped as the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and after the 1997 Super League season, a new National Rugby League competition emerged. Eddie Ward LM officated the 1995 ARL grand final with David Manson LM controlling the 1996 and 1997 ARL grand finals. Other Brisbane based referees qualifying at the time, included Jim Cox, Kerry David Goener, Kerry Gray, Tony Maksoud, Tim Mander and Shane Woodward.

However, after the emergence of the Brisbane Broncos, interest in BRL competition waned and the last grand final was played in 1997. The BRL competition was replaced by an extended league of Queensland clubs known as first as the Mixwell Cup. This competition is best described as a feeder grade competition to the Queensland Cup. The appointments to these games were now controlled by the QRL and open to any referee regardless of registered association. Hence the age old question and disputes over allocations were finally concluded, as the Brisbane Division Rugby League Referees’ Appointment Board became obsolete. The BRLRA had traditionally made appointments to the associated leagues via the Number 1 and Number 2 Appointment Boards or Subcommittees.

Prior to 1999, the management committee was changed from a 6 person board, with 3 serving in executive roles (President, Treasurer and Secretary) and the remainder being representatives from the general committee. In 1999, the secretary become an non-official position, with no voting rights and appointed by the management committee. The view at the time was to eventually have a full time secretary. This structure unique within Queensland Rugby League was innovated and allowed for an operational oriented secretary responsible to the management committee.

In 2000 when the Queensland Rugby League changed their logo into a stylized football, the “Q” outline, a common feature of many logos of clubs and leagues was removed. One of distinctive logos of the period was that of the Brisbane Second Division Rugby League with the traditional poinsettia and the Story Bridge that symbolizes the connection of the North-side and South-side competitions.

The Brisbane Second Division Logo

Reflections of the Super League Tim Mander (All Members Night 10th July 2018)

Tim Mander was graded in the New South Wales Rugby League completion in 1987 and reached first grade in 1992, along with Eddie Ward LM and David Manson LM. During this time, the Brisbane based referees had a two-day commitment with a weekend game and video a review early in the week, however they were responsible for their own training for the remainder of the week. Tim recalls that the Brisbane referees were treated separately and often unfairly by the rest of the New South Wales graded referees. At the time match fees were $570 compared to the Brisbane Rugby League Premiership fee of $120 per game.

In 1995, the Super League bid gained momentum, however the aim of News Corporation (the movement behind the bid) was to leverage their money and influence on the game, and initially had no intention to run a rival competition to the Australian Rugby League. The bid was largely caused by an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the pay television rights to rugby league in Australia.

After two years of legal battles the competition was played for a single season in 1997 alongside the rival Australian Rugby League. However, during 1995 there no resolution was in sight. Tim recalls a meeting where the Australian Rugby League called in the elite referees at the time and presented contracts. The terms were $5,000 for 5 years for the top tier and a game fee $570 per game. Tim himself was offered a part time contact of $3750. Only three referees (including Eddie Ward and David Manson signed). Tim reflected on this development by saying that both Eddie and David were nearing the end of their active elite careers and this factor may have a bearing on their signing with the Australian Rugby League. The monies on offer was based on a sharing of resources with the local referees’ associations in New South Wales as opposed to a value based on the individual referees. Super League offered $100K full time contacts for 5 referees, including Tim. Touch judges were later recruited. The referees involved with treated with little respect from referees affiliated with the Australian Rugby League

The Australian Rugby League responded by cancelling Tim’s accreditation in the fifth round of the 1995 season. Throughout the 1995 and 1996, the legal dispute continued, with Super League committing their referees to elite games in Great Britain, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, of which their national leagues were subscribed to Super League. Super League eventually started in 1997 and rugby league refereeing for the first time became fully professional. Tim remembers the training schedule being four days, a game, a video referee appointment and subsequent video reviews. A fitness testing session was held every 6 weeks to ensure adequate fitness levels. The video referee was a new concept in 1997 and at the time was used in times of absolute doubt by the referee.

In 1998, the National Rugby League was formed by merger of the Super League and Australian Rugby League. Tim continued as a National Rugby League Referee and Video referee during 1998 to 2005, including the 2004 and 2005 grand finals of and officiated 14 tests, a record for a Brisbane Referee. Tim then continued as a video referee until 2011. By the end of his elite career, Tim considered the use of the video referee as being an opposite culture to its introduction in 1997. The video referee is seen as an inclusive part of officiating and a part of the no risk culture that the game has evolved too. Tim laments that refereeing is an art and the video culture has taken this aspect out of the elite game.

New Approaches to Training and Development 2

The Queensland Rugby League had no accreditation courses available and to become qualified one had to do it by correspondence with the New South Wales Rugby League. A system was then set up whereby for the first time in Queensland, Queenslanders could qualify at Redcliffe where in 1976, Bernie Pramberg acquiring his coaching certificate.

During the decade, it was recognized that new methods in the training and development of referees was to be undertaken due to the increasing levels of professionalism of the game in Australia. In 1983, the BRLRA restructured several of its Sub-Committees including the Examination and Training Committee that was under Management Committee control. The first Director was Bob Ward LM. Two of the requirements for Director were that he must have senior refereeing experience and that he would be non-active. Bob set up this Committee which was a tremendous effort. During this year, unforeseen resignations occurred and worthy replacements were hard to find.

In 1984, Les Sainsbury LM became Director and the Training and Development board was expanded. The Examination Board (tasked with the referee qualifications of the time) became a sub-committee with Harry Dearness LM as the head and a Cadet and New Officers Committee was added. Guest lecturers were invited and were appreciated by the members. This was the year when parameters were set for appointments. This lead to the Training and Board in conjunction with the revamped Referees’ Appointment Board and Senior referees implementing refereeing policy. Harry Dearness LM later became the Coaching & Development Co-ordinator in 1995 as he was the South-East Divisional Referees’ Coordinator. This was a year of great changes and implementations. The Level 1 national accreditation was introduced and controlled by the BRLRA and Level 2 was introduced later that year.

Before the advent of the Level 1 program, new referees would be handed a Rule Book and told to learn it and come back when he is ready to take the examination. In 1994, the ARL Level 1 Referees Course was piloted in a similar format to the Level 1 Coaching Course, leading to the implementation of National Refereeing Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) with the ARL (later the NRL) in control of the program. The BRLRA no longer had the responsibility of examination and qualification, but continues to assist the program by assisting in organisation and accreditation of new referees. Another change was that all referee associations were given the 1995 and 1996 seasons to translate all referees who held their State qualification to the equivalent Level 2 standing. From the beginning of the 1997 season, all levels of accreditation can only be gained through direct involvement in the appropriate NRAS Course.

During 1997 and 1998 differing approaches for training and development were advocated, with David Manson LM focusing on on-field training and its requirement, facilitated by group approaches and constant revision of the laws of the games and Bob Ward LM, suggesting target groups and a separate lecture program to on-field training.

Finances and Sponsorship3

It is a tribute to the hard work and foresight of many members and supporters of the Association over its history that the Association now stands as a financially secure body with its own home and facilities dedicated to ensuring that the best quality referees possible are made available to the Rugby League players of Brisbane.

As Treasurer for 15 years up to 2000, I was in the fortunate position of being able to see behind the scenes what makes an Association such as ours ‘tick’ financially. For the first 50 years of the Association’s existence, outside facilities were relied upon for meetings and training. This all changed in the late 1970’s when the Association purchased a half-share in the Caledonian Club premises at Kangaroo Point. This solved the meeting dilemma, and in the early 1980’s a lease was taken out on nearby Tristram Park as a training home.

The acquisition of these facilities coincided with perhaps the rosiest period the Association has enjoyed from a financial perspective. These were, from a sporting perspective, the halcyon days of lucrative cigarette sponsorship with Winfield being the Association’s major sponsor, contributing sums far in excess of what are now available. Other sponsors such as NQX, XXXX and Coca Cola Bottlers were heavily involved as the Brisbane competition enjoyed great popularity and media coverage, pre the introduction of the Broncos – finding room on our jerseys – and managing the different ones for different leagues were some of the challenges of those days! Following the birth of the Broncos in the late 80’s and the banning of cigarette sponsorship, external revenue became much harder to find. The last of the major sponsors of the Association was CSR Readymix in the late 80s. Since that time the Association has had a great relationship with many smaller sponsors who have contributed much in terms of cash, products and services, through to our current sponsors.

In the past 25 years the Association has been in the fortunate position of being able to just act as an “agent” for the various Leagues we cover, passing all refereeing fees on to members. Whilst a levy has been in place to primarily cover the cost of the Annual Dinner, all benefits of the Association have had to be funded from the sponsorships mentioned above plus other fundraising activities such as doubles, raffles and league and government grants. Benefits have included subsidization of refereeing gear, the annual exchange with Auckland Referees, subsidization of appointment committees, various social functions such as the annual Christmas Tree, and all the training and development activities.

Unfortunately many organizations involved with rugby league in Brisbane have faded from the scene, many because of financial problems – my experience has been that members of our Association have always understood the need for good financial management to avoid such a fate. This was particularly obvious to me in the first few years I was Treasurer when we were able to use the sponsorship money to build up reserves for the more difficult years since. Virtually without exception our “financial” relationship with all the Leagues we cover has been excellent (although there certainly have been some tough negotiations at times), but there seems to have been, from all sides, “give and take” at appropriate times and a willingness to ensure that referees were, and are, adequately rewarded for their efforts given the financial conditions of the day.

The Association is starting to experience a change its income, with JF O’Grady Park starting to pay its way through hire to outside bodies, and the introduction of a larger number of smaller sponsors. Having one’s own home is a large financial responsibility – but the example of the past years shows that this is a responsibility the Association’s members understand, and are more than capable of bearing.


  1. Greg Mallory, 2011. Voices from Brisbane rugby league: oral histories from the 50s to the 70s, p4.
  2. Les Sainsbury, 2001. The Examination and Training Committee in 75th Anniversary 1926-2001 History Book Brisbane Rugby League Referees’ Association. Unpublished
  3. Brad Tallon, 2001. Finances and Sponsorship in 75th Anniversary 1926-2001 History Book Brisbane Rugby League Referees’ Association. Unpublished.

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