Tara Jones explains ‘end goal’ in choice between St Helens and Super League ref career

George Riley
Tara Jones St Helens Alamy

Tara Jones in action for St Helens against York Valkyrie in 2024

History-making rugby league official Tara Jones has revealed how her unique dual role as an international player and elite match official has proved the secret behind her trailblazing success.

The St Helens and England star has been racking up the milestones, making her debut as a Super League touch judge at London last week having recently become the first woman to referee a men’s senior domestic rugby league game in the northern hemisphere when she took charge of Oldham’s League 1 win over Cornwall last month.

As a player Jones had already made history by scoring the first ever try in a Women’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley for her club St Helens.

The 28-year old is now in the unique position in world sport of refereeing at the top level whilst also being a current international player. Jones also fits the roles around a full-time job and believes that being both a player and a referee has helped her gain an edge in both.

Jones said: “As a referee I’ve had players saying to me and coaches feeding back to me ‘you can tell that you play the game’.

“You can understand and read the game and know how players might be feeling in a moment. I think reading the game as well can get you in a better position. I try to build relationships with referees when I am playing too, I sometimes try and push them to their limits in a respectful way because I’m a competitive player. You try to push the boundaries with officials.

“Then as a referee I think it is about how you talk to players on the field and build that relationship as the game goes on. You have to build that up and it works both ways. If you go out screaming and shouting at players then they are not going to respect you. We are there to do a job but we are human, like the players are human. I like talking to players on the field and I will do that as much as I can, but there is a line that if you cross it you will still be getting a penalty against you.”

READ MORE: St Helens’ Tara Jones details ambition for history-making achievement to pave the way

History-maker Tara Jones gives insight into her life as a player and a match official

Tara Jones St Helens women Alamy
Tara Jones in action for St Helens in 2024

In a wide-ranging interview given to the mental fitness charity State of Mind Sport, Jones discusses the demands of a job that comes with a lot of abuse from fans, and admits that as her refereeing career continues to progress something may have to give in one of her careers.

“I try to manage it as best I can,” she said. “I am trying to progress with my refereeing and I want to keep pushing on. I want to continue playing for the time being. In the future I might have to make some very tough decisions but for the time being I want to continue playing at the top level, performing at the top level and progressing within my refereeing as this isn’t the end goal.

“Sometimes when people see a female referee in a men’s professional game they are taken aback and might question whether I am good enough. I like to prove to people that I am, so at the end of the game when I have changed their opinion I really like that and I am glad that people can be open and can change their opinion.

“Some people can’t change their opinion but generally people are supportive. I hope I can continue to change that perception that it doesn’t matter who you are in the middle as long as you are good enough to do the job then you will be appointed to do it.

“From a player point of view when they see me refereeing their biggest issue is what are they going to call me! They might call me Sir as that is what they are used to. I just say ‘call me ref’. The players don’t mean it, it is what they are used to.”

As for the abuse that rugby league officials receive from fans online, and at games, Jones has urged anyone involved to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

She added: “When someone is shouting at a referee and giving them loads of abuse, would they like it if that was their son, or husband or their wife with someone else shouting at them? No they probably wouldn’t. If you are stood giving abuse to a referee, their child could be watching you abuse their father or their mother. Is that right?”

SOM Talks: Referees is available now from all major podcast platforms

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