The seasoned official in the NRL, Ben Cummins, has astoundingly disclosed that he advised his adolescent son to pursue a path as an umpire in AFL, in order to guard him against the high levels of criticism often directed at rugby league referees.
Cummins, aged 49, prepares to end his career this season, having been unchosen for the spotlight games throughout the course of the year. His final appearance will likely be the game between St George Illawarra and Newcastle at Kogarah on Saturday night.
He said, ” I felt I wasn’t wanted within in the squad and, to be frank, at my age and not getting the games I should was a message the management didn’t want me there.”
He also indicated that his decision to retire was reinforced by the continuous attention given to the decisions made by officials in rugby league. Consequently, he counselled his 18-year old son, Patrick, to officiate in the competing sport.
“I’m glad he did,” Cummins expressed. “It’s less aggressive. In AFL, teams lose points if parents are abusive. He loves it. He’s a massive Wests Tigers fan, but he just loves his AFL umpiring.”
Rugby league faces a potential challenge as numbers of junior referees are dwindling nationwide. “The retention of referees isn’t great,” Cummins stated, “if there’s another option where you won’t get abused or criticised — even if it’s minimum wage at Maccas — you’ll take that job.”
With an impressive record of 442 matches since his debut in 2006, Cummins is the most veteran referee in history, surpassing Bill Harrigan (392), Ashley Klein (371) and Matt Cecchin (369). His career highlights include being center stage for five grand finals, 14 State of Origins, and 13 Tests.
Regarding the backlash he faced following a mistake in the 2019 Grand Final, which left an impact on his professional and personal life, Cummins mentioned the continued jabs he gets from fans in public. However, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has shown him nothing but support after the incident.
The importance placed on match officials in rugby league rivals the sport itself, and Cummins has noticed this shift over his 17 seasons. He explains, “The use of technology means it’s more heavily scrutinised. There’s such a focus on the things we do wrong.”
On the topic of the Bunker’s influence on the game, he commented, “I’ve been in both roles and it helps get the decision right.” As for the use of two referees, Cummins said that it offers an improved sense of control and understanding of the game.
Leaving a career full of moments big and small in his wake, Cummins plans to take a well-deserved break with his family.