FROM the moment she first picked up a whistle, Karra-Lee Nolan was destined for big things.
This will be no more evident than on Sunday, when she creates her own slice of history at the 2018 South Coast Group Seven Rugby League grand final day at the Collegians Sporting Complex.
The 24-year-old from Shellharbour will become the first ever woman to referee a Country Rugby League first grade grand final, when she officiates the decider between Shellharbour and Kiama.
Nolan said female participation in the sport, both as referees and players, had grown immensely.
“Women within rugby league are pushing hard to showcase their skills and talents,” she said.
“For me personally, the goal is being judged and assessed on my ability as a referee regardless of my gender.
“With that being said, its an honour to be able to run out this weekend in making history but taking a step forward in helping add opportunities to the current pathway being paved.
“I not only stand out there for myself but for my mother, family, work colleagues, students and any other females chasing their dream to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
After just missing out on the opportunity the past few seasons, Nolan found out the good news on Monday night
“After returning home from a recovery pool session, I found out that I had two missed calls from Craig Jones [director of referees],” she said.
“We had a laugh with one another initially over the phone call before speaking about performances within the final series following with congratulations, that I was refereeing the first grade grand final this weekend.
“It was a surreal feeling to be able to live my dream out as a reality.
“With dad being the person inspiring me to take up refereeing initially, it was good to be able to share that moment with him and mum.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason – there have been plenty of games and appointments that haven’t gone my way.
“I think this year has been the hardest both physically and mentally with building up on my character using the drive to better myself both as a referee and as a person.
“This weekend is a reward and recognition for the commitment, hard work and dedication shown throughout my career in striving to be the best athlete I can be and continuing to learn and develop along this journey.”
Sunday’s opportunity has been eight long years in the making for Nolan.
“Since beginning refereeing in 2010, I had set my sights to create a pathway that was upheld by commitment, dedication and hard work,” she said.
“Ultimately for me, refereeing is a competitive sport and with having set the goal to achieve a first grade grand final, it was something I wasn’t going to give up easily on.
“Not every referee has the chance to be able to referee a first grade fixture let alone a grand final.
“So this is something prestigious and very personal for me.”
After being appointed, Nolan can't wait to run onto the Collegians Sporting Complex on Sunday.
“When I run onto the field, I’ll be thinking how lucky can you get – to be able to live your dream in front of a crowd roaring and screaming,” she said.
“It’s what I live for, the moments like this when you can sit back and take in the moment and transfer that energy of the spectators into the psych moments before kick-off.
“A little bit of self talk and belief and off we go
“In terms of the game itself, I have set myself goals that I would like to achieve out of the game and within the first period set up the game with standards.
“I see what the teams give in respective to our four pillar elements and then adjust things if I need to be more stern or back off a little.
“I am setting out to enjoy every minute of the experience and put my best efforts forward.”
While Nolan admits this has been her toughest season on the field to date, it has also been her most successful.
“I was very fortunate to be apart of the ALG - Accelerated Learning Group where there were opportunities to be able to transition between CRL and NSW,” Nolan said.
“This year I debuted in the Jersey Flegg centre and was assessed by current NRL referees.
“That experience was invaluable and I felt it helped me better my game within elements that are different between both Sydney Rugby League and Country Rugby League.”
Nolan is also extremely humble, crediting numerous others for helping her along the way.
“There have been many people individually help within different aspects that range from coaching, mentoring, mateship, support networks and family,” she said.
“NSWRL and CRL have allowed me to experience some great opportunities and exposed me to higher level coaching and games that have all helped build the foundations to refereeing.
“To the coaches and mentors I engage with on a regular basis, can I thank you for your belief, the time you give and the outlook on life you have.
“You all strive to make me better myself not only as a referee but also as a human.
“I would personally like to thank my work, Warilla High School for supporting me throughout the past year with their willingness to account for periods away with refereeing and reviewing games in the down times of the day.
“Refereeing becomes the easy part when you have a work body that understands the extent of the commitment alongside the support from staff has been invaluable.”