Jack Smith has trod an unusual path to becoming a professional referee.
Today he is a full-time official in Super League. But in many ways the 27-year old is lucky to still be alive.
The ex-marine used to play the game quite regularly until being shot by a Taliban sniper, whilst serving out in Afghanistan.
“I have been involved with rugby all my life, but not always in a playing capacity,” he told Love Rugby league .
“Even when I was in the marines I played rugby and then got into the combined services under-23 team just before deploying to Afghanistan.”
Smith, who is from Wigan, admitted the damage caused from his wound was too serious to allow him to continue playing.
“The bullet caused a lot of internal damage,” he said.
“I lost my right lung, several ribs and a large part of my liver.
“It become evident shortly after the injury while I was still in hospital in Birmingham that I could no longer play the game because of the damage to the right-hand side.”
Smith was keen to stay involved with the game but realized coaching was not for him.
“I looked into coaching very briefly and it wasn’t something that I ever fancied doing,” he said.
“Then I thought I’d give refereeing a try and just get into it at a junior level low down like under-9s or under-10s.
“I saw it as a bit of a test really and I actually enjoyed doing it.”
Although refereeing has brought Smith a lot of joy, he explained that transition has been hard.
“The marines was a breeze, it’s a job that you love,” he admitted.
“You are with all your friends, you are kind of in a bubble and just get on with it.
“With refereeing there is a lot of exposure and 99% of it is negative. It doesn’t really bother you but it is a different lifestyle from what you’ve been used to.”
A rugby league match, particularly one in Super League, usually demands an official who is good at dealing with pressure and Smith believes his past career has helped him a lot in those situations.
“Past skills have allowed me to deal with that pressure a lot better,” he said.
“Everybody knows that the pressures are there. As much as fans don’t like admitting it most people wouldn’t do that job – there is nowhere to hide.
“You are in there on your own. You have got big decisions to make on big games that nobody’s going to agree with.”
This year Smith made his Super League debut, which he admits was a massive surprise.
“In my goals that I have set myself away from the formal side of rugby, I didn’t set myself a goal to be in Super League this year,” he said.
“I believed in myself but I also knew there were a good 10 to 12 people above me at the time all competing for only six Super League places.
“I obviously would have loved to but you want your goal-setting to be achievable as well.”
Although Smith believes he has done a good job since coming in, he fully acknowledged there was room for improvement.
“There is a lot in there that I need to learn and I need to improve on but I felt like coming in I did a good job,” he said.
“I ended up being involved with eight or nine games at that top level towards the back end of the year which I was really, really pleased with.”
Earlier this month it was announced Smith would become a full-time referee, which he described as amazing news.
“I was made up,” he said.
“I felt as though that was the progression that I needed. I felt as though I’d kind of taken myself as far as I could.
“I felt like being in the full-time environment was the way forward for me if I want cement myself as not only a regular Super League referee but competing to do those top games every week.”
Looking ahead to next season, Smith wants to establish himself as a regular feature week in, week out.
He has ambitions to referee on the international scene and take his new career as far as possible.
“I think in the early part of the season your goal has to be just to cling onto Super League and get in there,” Smith said.
“There are nine full-time referees in there as well as a couple of part-timers who are really competing for those Super League places.
“There are going to be four to six people disappointed every week and personally I don’t want to be one of those that’s disappointed.”
The Four Nations is just around the corner and although Smith acknowledged it would be premature for him to be a part of the event, he is certainly keen to be in Australia next year for the World Cup.
“This season the Four Nations has come miles too soon,” he said.
“As a referee, it was not something that was ever on the agenda for me.
“A real aspiration has got to be go to the World Cup as a referee. It is what everyone dreams of doing in any capacity, whether you are a referee, a coach or a player.
“If you are refereeing well, with the current management structure, you will be on that plane to Australia but with nine full-timers if is going to be a dogfight to get there.”