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Dunedin constable Erin Doherty was “surprised and stoked” when she was named in New Zealand Rugby’s National Referee Squad for 2022.

In four short years, Erin, 30, has gone from refereeing under-13 games at her local Kaikorai Rugby Club to being named as the head official in a Farah Palmer Cup match – New Zealand’s provincial women’s competition.

Erin played rugby from 11 until she was 21 before “retiring” in 2013 due to weekend work commitments.

Five years later, about the same time she joined Police, she decided to give back, choosing to officiate games instead of playing them. “I don’t miss having a sore body for two or three days afterwards,” she says.

The Public Safety Team officer, based at Dunedin Central station, says her early days refereeing under-13s was more about “managing and coaching” the players rather than officiating. “At that level you can just about pick something wrong with everything.”

She moved through the ranks quickly and now referees women’s premier and men’s premier development matches regularly.

There’s a natural crossover between her job as an officer and officiator, she says – both require clear communication, and a thick skin. “I’m used to a bit of colourful language or people questioning me at times. Being called not very nice things may get to some people, but it’s part of the job.”

That said, she reckons that a night patrolling the streets around Dunedin’s Octagon are easier than arguing with an unhappy rugby player.

When she was selected to join the national squad training camp in Wellington, she thought it was a chance to learn some new skills. Instead, she was told she was one of the four new referees added to the 31-strong squad. “It came as a surprise, but I’m really excited.”

National Referee manager Bryce Lawrence says Erin is a promising referee who will benefit from learning about the technical, tactical and game knowledge required at that level.

Her first Farah Palmer Cup match was in Nelson between Tasman and Taranaki on July 30, with a second match scheduled for the following week between Northland and Hawke’s Bay. Both games were to be televised.

Erin says she will take each game as it comes and hopes to get a few more under her belt next year, but has no grand plans on where her refereeing may take her. “But, hopefully, it will make getting weekends off easier.”

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