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Retired Moree referees Tommy Cain and Reg Jamieson remember the ‘good old days’ of local rugby league

THEY were yelled at and heckled, and told countless times to get their eyes tested.

And if Specsavers had been around 35-odd years ago, that catchphrase would’ve been used frequently.

Tommy ‘Killer’ Cain and Reg Jamieson still chuckle when they recollect their refereeing days on rugby league paddocks across the far north-west and beyond – the memories and laughs, they reckon, are just too precious to forget.

They were local referees for decades, and both will join hundreds of other rugby league devotees at Moree Memorial Hall on Saturday night to celebrate 100 years of the game at a local level.

Tommy and Reg, along with the likes of Noel Blewitt, Ray Rutledge, Des Young, Barry Breed, Phil Robinson, Johnny Sweeney and Eric Johnstone, were the blokes most supporters, players and officials loved to hate.

They were the game’s evil necessity but they commanded respect – and it was duly given.

Reg began refereeing in 1979 and Tommy followed one year later.

Reg was 45 at the time and Tommy was 10 years his junior and, amazingly, both men ran up and down rugby league paddocks each weekend for the next 30-odd seasons.

Reg retired at the ripe old age of 78 and Tommy hung up his badge four years ago at 71.

“And that was only because of illness,” Tommy smiled.

Both worked hard and held fulltime jobs while raising families, but still managed to find time on weekends to referee games across the region.

At times they would travel 8-10 hours to referee 80 minutes of football.

The rewards were often a pittance – it was the love of the game that kept them donning the white jerseys season after season.

Reg and Tommy travelled out west to places like Bourke, Goodooga, Brewarrina and Nyngan as well as towns and villages closer to home.

“Noel Blewitt coached several of us to become referees and we chartered a plane and went to a referees’ camp at Narrabeen for a week where I got my ticket – that was in 1979,” Reg recalled.

“After getting my ticket, several of us couldn’t get a game to referee in the Group 5 competition but referees were needed in Group 15 out at Nyngan so we went out there to gain experience.

From Left: Moree’s Johnny Sweeney, Eric Johnstone, Tommy Cain and Reg Jamieson during their rugby league refereeing days (Image Supplied).

“Sometimes we would charter planes and, one Saturday, I drove from Moree to Bourke to referee two games,” he said.

Tommy is Moree born-and-bred and was educated at The Mission School as well as St Philomena’s Catholic School; Reg grew up at Cunnamulla in outback Queensland before the love of his life, Tory, brought him to Moree.

Both Tommy and Reg enjoyed playing sport as young men, and it was their love of rugby league that drew them to refereeing.

Tommy was a very tough and talented rugby league player in his day and a champion cyclist for 20 years.

He took to refereeing because of numbers – or lack thereof.

“They were short of referees so I decided to get my badge – and did it for 35 years,” Tommy said.

At 14 Reg played A-grade football in Cunnamulla and when he arrived in Moree seven years later he played club football for East Moree as well as A-grade and reserves for Moree.

“Watching games of footie on television really got me interested in refereeing,” Reg said.

“I was also the ground manager of Moree junior rugby league. I could never get anyone to referee the games so I did it myself – it was the only way we could get the games started.”

Reg and Tommy have refereed many memorable games over the decades, but there are a couple that really stand out.

Tommy lists a reserve-grade grand-final at Glen Innes between Moree and Moree Boomerangs as the best game he has refereed while Reg says a second division grand-final between Mission Jets and Mungindi Grasshoppers was a pearler.

“Jets were leading 14-12 and Mungindi was attacking their try-line,” Reg recalled.

“Mungindi threw a pass and it was knocked on by a Jets’ player when he dived on the ball. Mungindi picked up the ball, played the advantage, and crossed to score and win the game.

“Afterwards the Jets players were the first ones to congratulate me, even though they were beaten – that’s one of my best memories in all the years I’ve refereed football,” he said.

Tommy and Reg reckon their refereeing days weren’t short on laughs, either.

Reg remembers the day champion player Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal claimed he knew the rules better than any referee.

“It was a game at Inverell between Inverell and Warialda and Inverell threw a good pass and scored a try,” Reg said.

“As I awarded the try, big Noel Cleal told me the pass was forward because he ‘knew the rules’.

“In the second half of the game Noel got tackled by three Inverell players and when he got up to play the ball he was facing sideline to sideline.

“I blew the whistle and awarded a penalty to Inverell but said to Noel: ‘Mr Cleal, for someone that knows the rules so well, you would’ve learned in junior rugby league that a player must face the score-line to play the ball’,” he grinned.

Tommy says the time the captain-coach of Brewarrina flattened half-a-dozen drunken spectators had to be seen to be believed.

“It was a semi-final, I think, and Brewarrina was playing Goodooga,” Tommy said.

“There was car-load of drunks sitting just past the in-goal area and when I awarded a try to the Brewarrina captain the drunks all yelled out to me that it wasn’t a try.

“Anyway, the bloke that scored the try went over to all six of them and landed six hits – one on each of them – and they all fell flat on their backs.

“I reckoned if he was capable of doing that, then it was a try to me,” Tommy laughed.

Tommy Cain (left) and Reg Jamieson with a limited edition Moree Men of League jersey featuring the names of hundreds of Moree rugby league players. The jersey is one of several to be auctioned at the Moree Boars-Inverell Hawks clash at Boughton Oval on Saturday to coincide with local rugby league’s centennial celebrations (Image Copyright Bill Poulos).

It was also at Brewarrina when a huge on-field fight between players that escalated to an all-in brawl forced Tommy to declare time-out – his own.

“I blew the whistle and walked off the field, bought a coke and a hotdog, and sat in the grandstand,” Tommy smiled.

“When they finished fighting they came over and said, ‘hey ref, we’re ready to get on with the game now, if you are’.”

Tommy says there were games closer to home that could produce a headache or two as well, especially when family was involved.

Tommy Cain as a young player for Moree. He was also an exceptional cyclist in his younger days.

He recalled that when his son Mathew played for Moree juniors and reserves, there was absolutely no quarter given and no family favours – just plenty of cold-shoulder from wife Kathy if Tommy ruled against their son.

“Kathy wouldn’t speak to me for nearly a week. I was in the doghouse from when the game finished until around the following Thursday – that’s the sort of stuff I had to put up with,” he laughed.

Tommy regards Trevor Tighe, Jim Bassos, Kevin Bourke and Heiz Blume as the best players to ever pull on a Moree jersey and says the greatest grand-final he’s ever seen was in 1989 when the Boars pipped Narrabri, 16-15.

“I also think the grand-final when the McGrady brothers played for Moree against West Tamworth was one of Moree’s finest moments in the game,” Tommy said.

Tommy is merely a spectator now – there’s no need to return to the field when the hotdog is eaten and the all-in brawl has settled.

“I still get along and watch the odd home game. But, let me tell you, me and Reg have been through a few dry gullies together,” he smiled.

Reg, meanwhile, is still active at home matches, despite his 85 years.

Along with a few other volunteers he mans the gate and helps pack up afterwards, but still manages to keep an eye on the game – and the referee.

“We do the gate for the Moree Boars home matches and sometimes when I’m watching the game I think to myself, ‘that referee should’ve gone to Specsavers’,” he says with a wink.

Words: Bill Poulos

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