Ton of courage: Kasey’s milestone built on drive and dedication

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

Kasey Badger has overcome plenty of hurdles to raise a century of games as an NRL touch judge and, while she’s rightly proud of the achievement, the ultimate goal remains refereeing an NRL match.

After playing the game she loves between the ages of four and 12, she stepped away from rugby league for six years because she wasn’t allowed to play alongside the boys.

It wasn’t until she turned 18 that she pulled the boots back on again – this time as a referee.

“I’ve stuck with it for two reasons … one is how much I love the game and how much I love refereeing,” said Badger.

“I honestly also believe I have ability. If I didn’t deep down believe that, I wouldn’t still be here.

“I know that when I am in games I’ll do a good job, it’s just whether circumstance and luck will get me there.

“I always hoped I would do 100 games because it means you are having a decent enough career to be around for a number of years.

“I never wanted to come in and do one or two games. I was always in it for the long haul.”

And like so many who dedicate their life to their sport, Badger has faced many setbacks and pushed through pain to to get to the top of her profession.

In 2018, chronic pain in her right arm led to surgery to remove part of her rib and last year she suffered a herniated disk.

Refereeing on a busted ankle for most of a season also cost her considerable time away from the game.

Then there has been changes to refereeing during her career which have resulted in less opportunities for referees, including the decision to go back to one referee.

“Between those knocks along the way and the injuries, I wouldn’t keep going if I didn’t think I had something to offer,” said Badger.

“Because I love the game so much, the hard parts of refereeing don’t seem that hard.”

The ‘hard parts’ of her chosen field include the uncertainty that goes with only finding out each Tuesday where you will be officiating that weekend.

Unlike players, who can map out their entire season with a scan of the draw, match officials get handed their gigs just a few days out from each assignment.

Then there’s the negativity and criticism that goes with the territory.

“I love the game enough that those things don’t really bother me,” said Badger.

“The ‘uncontrollables’, like injury, are what I find the hardest to deal with.”

Standing alongside Kasey throughout her career has been her husband Gavin, who took charge of 354 games as a referee and 57 as a touch judge before announcing his retirement at the end of last year.

In fact, Kasey and Gavin even had the opportunity to referee a game together once, with Gavin in the middle and Kasey on the touchline.

“I can’t remember who played, but that was special,” said Kasey.

“It’s a memory that will never be able to be taken away from us and its something that, to date, no other couple has got to experience.

“I wish we could have had the opportunity to referee more games together.”

And it’s not just Gavin’s support for what she does on the field that is so important to Kasey, but his support for what she does off it as well.

“GIven how challenging refereeing can be at times, it is good to have something in my life that is easy,” said Kasey.

“It isn’t just our love for the game and our passion for refereeing but our values too. It’s what we believe in and how we think people should be treated.

“We are so aligned on all those things and that helps to make me feel supported as a referee, as an athlete and more importantly as a person.”

What is pleasing for Badger is that, particularly at the grassroots, there is growing interest from young women to referee.

Badger’s decision to referee came because she could no longer play, but despite the seismic shift in opportunities for women to play rugby league, this has not stifled enthusiasm at the grassroots to be a referee.

For Badger, the next step is ensuring that this interest in the grassroots continues to be nurtured with chances to make the leap to NRL level.

At the moment, Badger and Belinda Sharpe remain the only two women to have refereed, either on the touchline or in the middle, in the NRL.

“There is still a lack of women pushing through at the highest levels,” said Badger.

“But I remember being excited earlier this year when the junior representative squads were announced in New South Wales.

“Especially in the Country Rugby League junior representative squads, there were a lot of girls in the squad and that stood out to me. The ratio, especially at the grassroots is starting to shift.”