The respect rugby referee Mike Lash garners on the footy field was on full display during his 100th first class fixture on Saturday.
Following a Waimea try, Nelson star Willy Havili kicked the ball away in frustration.
Mike simply said: “Go get it, Willy.”
Then, without hesitation, the young first five ran 30 metres to retrieve the ball.
The 31-year-old whistleblower marked the significant milestone in his career at the weekend as Waimea and Nelson played out a thrilling draw.
“I’ve refereed these two teams a lot and they have had some tough battles, so it’s great to be involved in another one today,” Mike said after the game.
Refereeing 100 first class games is something Mike has grinded away at for a while to achieve.
“It’s been a long journey. I’ve been all around the world and country so to bring up this personal milestone is quite special.”
Mike says he still remembers his first premier match 13 years ago like it was yesterday.
“Huia against Stoke in Motueka, they didn’t know it was my first till afterwards. I just kept it quiet and got a few accolades afterwards, which was nice.”
Injuries ruled Mike out of playing the game after suffering multiple concussions in college.
However, his desire to remain in the game he loved led him to picking up the whistle.
Having qualified as a pilot, he headed to Southland for work and quickly made the senior referee panel and eventually officiated 44 senior fixtures.
Mike was also selected to join the NZ Rugby referees’ panel and was given three junior international appointments, a Ranfurly Shield challenge and Mitre10 Cup games.
“NPC was always a goal of mine and an amazing experience.”
He says every game has its own special moments, but a Tasman Trophy final between Nelson and Waimea stands out.
“We went 100 minutes with extra time, so that really tested the legs, lungs and mind.”
Mike says his style has developed over a century of matches.
“For a long time I tried to be like other referees, it took me a bit of time to realise that I just had to be me and bring me to the game, and when that fell into place I started reaping benefits from it.”
He says there are particular players that are harder to handle – his younger brother James among the chief culprits.
“We are very close, and we challenge each other on the rugby field, he knows he’s not going to get it easy.”
Mike says there are a “fair few local legends round the show” who have provided him a challenge but says that’s what you need as a referee.
“They make me earn my keep.”
Mike says he may look to hang up the whistle and get into referee coaching as he wants to give back to the game as much as he can for as long as he can.
He says the highlight over his tenure is the friends he’s made.
“A lot of these guys are good mates and for them to see past the jersey is probably the biggest reward, on the field I’m the ref and we have that mutual respect, off it we can have a beer and a laugh.”
This was epitomized following Saturday’s game as both sides gave a special cheer to “Lashy” before shaking hands.
Prior to the pleasantries however, the two old rivals went to war at Neale Park, ending in stalemate.
The defending champions Nelson and unbeaten Waimea could not be separated after the exhausting encounter which ended 22-all.
Nelson 22 (Lewis 2, Rhind tries, Havili 2 cons, 1 pens)
Waimea 22 (Coman, Palmer, Mcbrydle, Tau tries, Eder 1 cons)
Nelson 22 drew with Waimea 22
Marist 42 def Stoke 22
Wanderers 21 def Kahurangi 19
Waitohi 28 def East Coast 24
Moutere 28 def Renwick 24