Nelson's top whistle blower Mike Lash is one step away from being a fulltime rugby referee. Photo Jacob Page

Lash chasing pro referee dream

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Nelson’s top rugby referee Mike Lash says his brother James probably poses the toughest challenge to him when he’s the man with the whistle.

The 29-year-old continues to chase his dream of being a fully professional referee and is just one rung away.

“It’s not something that once you’re in you’re in, you just try to do enough to keep improving and getting better.”

Mike currently referees Mitre 10 Cup, with four matches this season in his 27 first class appearances. He’s also been an assistant referee for Super Rugby, controlled a preseason Ranfurly Shield challenge and was in control of the secondary schoolboys test between New Zealand and Australia.

Mike refereed his first game of rugby in 2003 when he took charge of an under-10s match between Stoke and Nelson.

Nelson College’s Peter Grigg believed Mike had the attributes to be a good referee and encouraged him to take a course, which he did.

Mike continued to play for the Nelson College second XV before injuries forced him out. Mike says grabbing a whistle allowed him to stay involved in the game he loves.

He is a helicopter pilot by trade, but is the Referees Manager at the Tasman Rugby Union as he chases a professional contract.

“I’ll be able to fly helicopters until I’m 60, but I won’t be able to be a referee when I’m that old. Sometimes, not getting a mention as a referee is the best sign that you’ve done a good job.

“We have 1800 referees in this country and only seven of them do it professionally – the rest are doing it for the love of the game.”

He says officiating his brother James has had its moments.

“He knows I’m not going to make his life easier or harder and he’s the same to me. The first time I ever refereed him, he was playing first-five, chipped the ball over the defence, regathered and then chipped the ball over the winger who was coming across and got it back and scored under the posts.

“I awarded the try and he just turned and winked at me and said ‘that’s pretty good, isn’t it?’”

Mike says the toughest areas of the game to get right are the tackle ball and the scrum.

“I’ve made a tackle, been in a ruck, but I’ve never been in a scrum.

“I’ve been lucky this year to have [former All Blacks hooker] Mark Hammett and [All Black prop] Kane Hames to talk too.”

He says supporter-abuse is rare and he looks at it as misguided passion in the heat of the moment.

He says he’s made mistakes and generally it’s best to just own up. and the players respect the honesty.

“Being a referee is great fun and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to stay involved in rugby but wants to get away from being tackled every weekend.”