Super League referee Ben Thaler has emerged in recent seasons as one of the British game’s top match officials, plying his trade at international level as well as in the club game.
A charismatic and often chirpy presence on the field, Thaler believes that being a good communicator, with the ability to relate to players as people, is a vital skill in the referee’s locker.
“I think it is, I think some of the best referee over the decades have shown that ability,” he told Love Rugby League.
“The likes of Steve Ganson, Stuart Cummings, John Holdsworth before that, Billy Thompson, they were brilliant communicators with players, and they were on the same wavelength.
“They showed the players the respect that they deserved, it wasn’t just one way, they had good communication with them.
“They had that little bit of banter now and again, when it was required.
“If you have that relationship then the respect works both ways. A player knows when they’ve done something wrong.”
Being in the spotlight can be psychologically tough for a referee, who is only ever one mistake away from being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Thaler maintains that, just like players, referees should see making those mistakes as an opportunity to improve.
“It’s weird, because sometimes you’ve got to have those big mistakes in your career to learn,” he said.
“It didn’t affect the score in the game, but it affected me getting the final.
“You’ve got to psychologically talk to yourself, and get yourself through a game.
“If you put yourself in a good position to make a decision, you know what’s going on, you’ve worked out patterns of play, you know where to stand, you need to work around when you’ve got a video referee and you haven’t, there’s certain players who you know you can communicate with, etc, etc.
“It’s stuff like that, because the main errors tend to be with ones you don’t see.
“You’ve got be focused on that one in a million thing happening, and know the law that backs it up.”
While Thaler played amateur and schools rugby league, he acknowledges that he was never good enough to become a professional player.
Refereeing gets him close to the action in the sport that he loves, however.
“Obviously refereeing is the next best thing,” Thaler said.
“The cricket umpire, Dickie Bird, used to say that, because of the involvement and you’re so close to the action.
“You’re passionate about the sport and you’re involved in the game itself.
“Your contribution is not as significant as the players, but obviously up there.”