Wigan's Liam Moore turned down a career in law to become referee

It isn't just coaches, players and fans who are on countdown to the start of the new Super League season next week.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:55 am
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:58 am
Liam Moore taking charge of last year's Challenge Cup Final

The referees are also exciting to be back doing what they love - just ask Wigan's Liam Moore.

The 25-year-old, who lives in Standish, took charge of a gripping Challenge Cup Final last year... seven years after being referee of a schoolboys curtain-raiser at Wembley.

And with a World Cup this autumn, has high hopes he can continue his rise up the ranks.

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"Players want to play in the big games and the finals, and the referees are no different - we want to be involved," he said. "That's what drives us to be the best we can be as well."

Of course, higher stakes and bigger crowds - in normal times - bring with them greater scrutiny and criticism, and many may question the appeal of becoming a referee.

Moore loved it so much, he turned his back on a potential career in the law to become one of the RFL's full-time officials at the tender age of just 21.

"First of all, I love the sport and being in the middle, I have the best seat in the house," he said.

"We have big decisions to make, it's an adrenaline rush, especially with a crowd on. Whether it's the Hull derby or Wigan-Saints, there's no better feeling that coming off the pitch knowing you have contributed to a classic."

Moore grew up in Highfield and played rugby league for St Cuthbert's and his Deanery High school team as a junior before embarking down the refereeing route.

"I thought I would give it a go just to see what it was like, I did the course without any expectations whatsoever and thought I would maybe earn some pocket money," said Moore, who said he was an average player.

"My first game was at a festival at Wigan St Cuthbert's, and I really enjoyed it.

"Gradually as I moved through the age groups and getting to open age, it became a career option for me.

"I really enjoyed NCL and the Championship, I was at uni in Liverpool at the time and my mates would go out to work on a Sunday, and I went and refereed games.

"I had every intention of becoming a solicitor but when I left university with a law degree, I had a chance of becoming a full-time referee and had to make a decision."

Given he crossed paths with the likes of George Williams and Joe Burgess as a junior player, does refereeing them ever feel awkward?

"No, because I've refereed through the system and through the age groups," he says. "Matty Lees (at St Helens), Oliver Gildart, I've refereed them from juniors and hopefully I'd like to referee them at international level, too. You just see it as being the norm."

Moore says the players and coaches are "all pretty good with us" but referees often face the wrath of fans, both from the stands and on social media.

"When you're in a decision-making business, you know there will be criticism, especially when you make a mistake," he said.

"And there are going to be mistakes, given the speed of the game and having to making calls at split-seconds. The first thing I'd say is nobody is harder on me if I make a mistake than me. And the second is we have a performance department, we are accountable.

"But there is a respect from most people, the coaches, the players, the media. I think they realise nobody goes out to make a mistake and, with the coaches, the important thing is there's a conversation there. We can explain the rationale behind decisions."

Moore and his other full-time officials have visited clubs in the off-season and taken charge of sessions to try and limit those conversations.

"In the last week I've been to St Helens, Salford, Wigan, I had an online meeting with Toulouse... we do it more pre-season when there are new rules coming in," he said. "The last thing we want is to turn up in round one and be blowing penalties because the players don't know the new rules properly.

"We want a flowing game, we want to be anonymous if we can be."

Moore admits he may return to a career in the law down the track but his immediate focus is very much on his rugby league career.

As well as working as a full-time referee he is the a match officials recruitment and development manager for the RFL, and was pleased to see 150 sign up to online courses - twice as many as pre-lockdown last year.

“Covid has forced so many changes on rugby league, as with other sports – but this might be an example of it working in our favour," he added.

“Clearly it hasn’t been possible to get people together at a venue to run our recruitment courses, as previously. But the response to online recruitment courses has been really positive – both in terms of the numbers who have booked to attend, and the way the courses have gone.

“It’s going to be such a boost to the sport to have more match officials available as we look to a brighter future, especially with the impact of the World Cup later this year.”