Uni student with an eye on the ref's whistle
When Sarah Bennison graduates from university this week, she does so with one main goal in life - to become a Super League referee.
The 22-year-old leaves Leeds Metropolitan University with more than just a degree in sports development to help her on her way, too. She has already refereed an international fixture and has every confidence of achieving her dream.
And while most of her student mates would have been out enjoying the bright lights of a Friday night last week, Bennison was sat at home with pizza and a film, taking time out to join Steve Parry and myself on 5 live Sport to tell us about her ambitions.
She's never played rugby league, but Bennison's loved the sport since age 11. Photo: PA
Sounding shy and unassuming - or as Parry put it "far too nice to be a referee!" - Bennison was happy to complete yet another interview in a busy fortnight which has seen her profile rise dramatically.
All the more striking about Bennison's story is that she has never played rugby league. She fell in love with the sport as an 11-year-old standing on the Odsal terraces shouting for the Bradford Bulls.
Her rise through the refereeing ranks has been remarkable.
Earlier this month, she made history when she became the first woman ever to take charge of an international match, Norway versus Germany in Lillestrom.
As well as being a real milestone for the sport, it was also a big moment for her on a personal level. She had never gone abroad by herself before.
"It was a very big experience for me, not just doing an international but the experience of actually travelling abroad to do a game, neither of which I'd done before," she says.
"Just waiting in the airport on my own, working out where I was supposed to go for my transfers from the airport and what I was supposed to be doing was a completely nerve-wracking experience."
You wouldn't have thought getting a flight to Europe would have raised too many concerns for someone whose job it is to keep 26 men in check on a rugby pitch but it emphasises what a new experience this is for Bennison.
A Conference referee and Championship touch judge, she was thrown into referee the second half of Workington against Swinton earlier this month after the appointed referee Jamie Leahy was unable to carry on after half-time. It was an opportunity that was quickly followed by the Lillestrom trip.
"I do this because I want to be involved in the sport," she says simply. "I've been immersed in it since I started watching Bradford Bulls and, as I've never really had the urge to try and play it, I thought I'd try and get involved through refereeing."
Has she encountered any obstacles as an aspiring young female referee?
"Not at all," she responds. "The support has been amazing. My friends, family and all the other match officials are backing me and saying 'Go for it!'."
Bennison initially trained to be a football referee but opted for rugby league. Why?
"I'm not sure I could have hacked all the abuse from players," she admits. "Rugby players seem to respect the officials a lot more. I think it's just the way you are taught to play the game and the rules that are in place.
"Rugby officials don't tolerate dissent so the players learn not to do it or they will be punished. It goes unpunished far more in football so the players seem to think they can get away with behaving how they want."
Having written a lot about officials this year and having been sent to train as a football official with the FA, I'm convinced you need a certain something about you to make it as a ref and to want to be one - confidence, thick skin, and maybe a bit of an ego.
What strikes me about Bennison, though, is that she doesn't immediately display any of those attributes and seemed more stressed about travelling alone than refereeing an international fixture.
So what's her secret?
"Body language and communication is key," she says. "My partner, Jay, always tells me to be loud. So I make sure I'm loud. My body language is strong, too. That seems to work for me. You may think I'm nice but I can be a not nice person too!"
Jay doesn't watch Bennison at every match but he does support her when he can.
But does he ever feel the need to jump to his girlfriend's defence if she is getting slagged off by fans around him?
"Sometimes he does," says Bennison. "Once he did have a go back at fans who were giving me verbals during the game. He told me afterwards what he had done and I said 'you can't do that!' so he keeps his cool when he comes to watch me now."
Bennison believes there is room for a female official in rugby league's elite league. Indeed, she even wrote her university dissertation on that very subject.
"Making it as a Super League ref is my ultimate ambition," she says. "Time is on my side so it will all come down to my performance and my fitness levels but I think I can do it. "
Bennison tells me her bosses at the RFL have been very encouraging about her progress. When I ask her if any of them have told her that her goal is achievable, she replies: "No-one has told me it is unachievable".