WHEN it comes to catching a football Amy Draper laughs and admits it is not her strong point, but when it comes to refereeing it is a very different matter.
When it comes to controlling a game of rugby league Draper certainly has skills. They are skills which saw her make history on Sunday as she became the first female to referee a Group 10 premier league game.
Standing in the middle and making the calls as St Pat's hosted Orange CYMS at Jack Arrow Oval is a moment the 23-year-old won't soon forget.
"It feels pretty cool actually, it didn't actually hit me until about 20 minutes before kick-off if I'm honest," Draper said.
"But as soon as the first whistle went it was just another football game for me, I tried not to think about it too much. Obviously the nerves were still a little bit there, it may have taken me 10-15 minutes to shake them off, but it was great.
"They were great, they tried to keep correcting, every time they said sir they were like 'Sorry, miss'. But they were really respectful, they were fantastic, I couldn't have asked for a better two teams to have in my debut game, they were amazing.
"It was so good to do on a home ground too."
While Sunday's game was Draper's first at premier league level, she's certainly got plenty of experience when it comes to wielding a whistle.
Her refereeing career began as a touch football official.
"I'm so uncoordinated it's not funny. I think that's one of the main reasons I started refereeing actually, I was playing touch football locally and they approached me and said 'You can't catch a ball, do you want to pick up a whistle?'," she laughed.
"That was 11 years ago when I started touch football and I haven't touched a ball since basically, I've just been refereeing. I've done so much more as a referee as I ever would've as a player."
The next step came after Group 10 referees Nathan Blanchard and Bryce Hotham saw Draper in action with a whistle in touch football
"Nathan and Bryce actually poached me from touch football, they were playing in a touch football team together and I just happened to be refereeing that game in our local Bathurst comp in 2018," Draper said.
"They both approached me and said 'We think you'd be a really good rugby league referee, can you come and do the course in a couple of weeks' time?' So I did and I love it."
As Draper was older than 18 at the time and did bring some experience from touch football, she did not have to spend long cutting her teeth in Group 10 Junior Rugby League games.
But she certainly enjoyed those games before getting her chance to be involved with older age groups.
"I did do my time in juniors, I did a season or so and helped out. They were great, those junior games were hilarious watching those little ones run around, they are fantastic, I think everyone should start in juniors," she said.
This season Draper has controlled a number of reserve grade games and run the line in premier league fixtures.
But when she got the nod as referee for Sunday's game, it was a surprise.
"I got the call on Wednesday afternoon from Bryce and he just sort of said 'We just want to congratulate you'. I didn't know where the conversation was going to start with, but then he told me I was going make my debut on the weekend, Pat's versus CYMS," Draper said.
"Then I think I was silent for a little while, I asked him if he was serious and he said 'Yep, you've done a great job and we think you deserve it.' I was then like 'This is great,'."
Draper enjoyed the experience, with Orange CYMS posting a 20-18 win over St Pat's.
She'd naturally like the opportunity to do more Group 10 premier league matches - saying "One hundred percent I'm keen for more, I want to mix it with the big dogs" - but Draper also hopes to inspire more females to follow her into refereeing.
She has already proved the chance to control senior league games is there for those who are willing to work on their officiating skills.
"I'd like so much to see more female referees. We lost a few coming from 2019 into the 2020 season because of COVID and we just haven't seen those numbers increase this season," she said.
"We've tried training sessions run by the women who are currently active referees, but we definitely would love to see more. Hopefully me doing this game will spark some interest in females.
"Hopefully people will have a bit of incentive to come and have a chat about their interest."
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