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NRL Appoint First Female Referee

Belinda Sharpe will become the first top flight female rugby league referee in Australia when she officiates the NRL match between Canterbury and Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

Sharpe's appointment is a breakthrough in the code which has never had a woman referee in 111 years of the professional game.

Sharpe became an NRL touch judge in 2014 and officiated in that capacity at the 2017 World Cup.

She began refereeing Queensland Cup matches in 2015 and handled a Broncos' trial match against Wynnum-Manly in February this year.

In May, Sharpe and Kasey Badger were upgraded to full-time referee contracts, suggesting the significant appointment wasn't too far away.

"At that stage I was just focused on coming down to Sydney and joining the full-time squad and getting my feet into that environment," Sharpe told NRL.com.

"That was the first and foremost thing for me. Certainly it's been a whirlwind couple of months for me, and that appointment was a stepping stone to this Thursday for sure.

Touch judge Belinda Sharpe runs during the round nine NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Melbourne Storm at WIN Stadium . Photo: Getty

Sharpe described the refereeing environment as "high pressure" but said her gender was irrelevant in a lot of ways.

"I've never come across anything like that (sledging). At the end of the day they just want a referee who is capable of doing their job and it doesn't necessarily matter who they are, or whether they're male or female. They just want you to do a good job.

"That hasn't changed over the years in any grade I've been involved in. Once you demonstrate you're competent in that role, that's all that matters.

"The players are used to seeing me out there since I've been doing it for a few years now so they don't treat me any differently."

Referee Belinda Sharpe during the Women's State of Origin match between New South Wales and Queensland, in 2019. Photo: Getty

Sharpe was told the news of her appointment on Monday by NRL referees coach Bernie Sutton.