As a Queanbeyan Whites rugby union player, Grant Jones concedes he had little time for referees and was often quick to offer advice.
So it was much to the surprise of many of his former teammates when Grant became a referee. He is currently in the midst of his fourth season with the whistle.
However, his route to becoming a referee was far from conventional.
Grant has been around rugby for most of his life, from St Edmond’s College to the Queanbeyan Whites. He played second grade at the Whites and fulfilled pretty much every role at the club: he had been a coach, he managed teams, and was on the committee.
He was omnipresent at Whites’ games every Saturday during winter.
In 2017, he had something of a forced epiphany when fronting the ACT Rugby Union judiciary.
“I was running the water in a game against Wests at Jamison when I said something along the lines of the referee owing us for one of his decisions, which I defined at the time as terrible,” says Grant. “I was then called before the judiciary.”
As part of his punishment, then Whites coach Adam Fahey offered the judiciary a left-field option as punishment.
“Adam suggested to the judiciary that I would do a referees’ course and referee a couple of junior games to experience what it was like being a referee,” says Grant.
Surprisingly, the proposal was accepted by the judiciary and Grant found himself in the middle with a whistle.
“My first game was with the under-12s,” he says.
The experience could not have been more foreign.
“As a player, I was vocal,” says Grant. “I thought I knew the laws better than the referee and told them as much.”
Now the tables have turned and Grant is the one making decisions, effectively opening himself up for scrutiny. But he has embraced the challenge.
“It was something that was always in the back of my mind so once given the opportunity I decided to take the leap into refereeing,” he says. “At the time I thought, ‘I’m going to cop a hard time from my mates.’ Now they have a level of respect.”
For Grant, there is also Whites’ business to attend to as he is currently the club’s vice-president.
He’s now in the midst of his fourth season as a referee. He’s controlled women’s first-grade games, as well as colts and juniors games, but not for his beloved club.
“I asked the Referee’s Association not to appoint me to Whites’ games,” says Grant.
While he won’t be refereeing Queanbeyan games any time soon, what he has done by becoming a match official is to set an example for others about playing an ongoing and vital role in rugby through refereeing.