Five of the best Super League referees to ever take up the whistle

Refereeing is a thankless task; no matter what happens, the man in the middle is under continuous scrutiny.

But, without referees and their touch judges, there can be no games at any level with abuse reaching a high in recent years.

Having said that, another three officials were added to the full-time Super League list for 2022, but which five referees deserve their time in the limelight for being a Super League great?

Russell Smith

He began refereeing prior to the creation of Super League in 1996, but Russell Smith spent almost a decade officiating in the summer game. Known for his great command of the players and the rapport he quickly established with them, Smith refereed five Challenge Cup finals – one of the pinnacles of success for an official. He left the British game in 2003 to test himself in the NRL, where he retired after 39 games. After retiring, Smith became a video official and, after a stint as the interim boss, acted as a senior advisor to the referees boss, Daniel Anderson.

Ian Smith

Another Smith, this time in the shape of Ian, was a Super League referee between 1999 and 2010, regularly officiating at the highest level before becoming a video referee. Having refereed approximately 300 Super League games over a 12-year professional career, Smith went onto the refereeing coaching staff as well as continuing as a video ref whilst becoming an ambassador for the State of Mind mental health charity. In 2008, Ian Smith famously sent off Gareth Hock for manhandling him, with Hock incurring a five-match suspension. Apart from that incident, Smith commanded the middle of the field well and earned the respect of players and fellow officials alike.

Ben Thaler

Ben Thaler has arguably become the best referee in the game in recent seasons. His first professional game was when the Leigh Centurions took on York City Knights in July 2001, whilst his first Super League game was when the London Broncos hosted Leigh in May 2005. A number of accolades have befallen Thaler – he was the referee for both the 2015 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, and the 2015 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium as well was the referee for the 2017 Million Pound Game, which saw Leigh Centurions relegated from Super League, and Hull Kingston Rovers promoted, in a straight swap of the two clubs promoted and relegated from the previous season. The 41-year-old is one of the most experienced and respected in the game.

Richard Silverwood

The referee with the most officiating games under his name, Richard Silverwood was a prominent figure throughout both the 2000s and 2010s. With his first Super League game coming in 2001 as the Salford City Reds took on Halifax, Silverwood would later officiate three Challenge Cup Finals and three Grand Finals as well as three World Club Challenges. He is the only referee to register over 400 games in Super League and was also the man-in-the-middle for the 2013 World Cup Final. Of course, Silverwood was also suspended three times by the RFL in 2009, 2011 and 2016, with the latter prompting his retirement.

Phil Bentham

Another with over 300 Super League appearances under his belt, Phil Bentham refereed from 2005 to 2018. Major honours included two Grand Finals and four Challenge Cup Finals, but he was also the video referee at four Grand Finals and three Challenge Cup Finals. Without even addressing his stature on the field, Bentham’s tallying of major finals proves just how successful he was an official. And, when he retired following a neck injury sustained in 2018, it was a great loss to the sport.