Refereeing is a thankless task; no matter what happens, the man in the middle is under continuous scrutiny. But, just which five referees deserve their time in the limelight for being a Super League great?
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.
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.
Beginning his officiating journey in the Regal Trophy competition in 1994, between 1996 and 2006, Karl Kirkpatrick took charge of 221 Super League games before retiring one month into the 2007 season. In that time, Kirkpatrick officiated two Grand Finals one Challenge Cup Final, upholding the nature necessary to be a top-flight referee. It was a major loss when the Warrington-born referee hung up his boots.
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.
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.