HISTORY-MAKER: Rockhampton's Belinda Sharpe will become the first female to referee an NRL game when she officiates at the Brisbane versus Canterbury game at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
HISTORY-MAKER: Rockhampton's Belinda Sharpe will become the first female to referee an NRL game when she officiates at the Brisbane versus Canterbury game at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night. Liam Kidston

From under-8s at Gracemere to making history at Suncorp

RUGBY LEAGUE: Steve Hamilton says Belinda Sharpe's historic NRL appointment is reward for her hard work and sheer determination.

Belinda (nee Sleeman) will become the first female referee to control an NRL game in the Round 18 clash between the Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday.

The 31-year-old from Rockhampton, a former sports reporter with The Morning Bulletin, has been making headlines of her own during her rise through the game's officiating ranks.

Hamilton, a Central Queensland referee development officer for the NRL, vividly remembers the enthusiastic teenager who made an immediate impression on him at her first referees course in Yeppoon.

"Belinda was probably 17 or 18 and she was the only girl in a room of boys,” he said.

It was Belinda Sleeman's first time as referee with the CQ Capras taking on South Logan Magpies.
Photo Lisa Benoit / The Morning Bulletin
Belinda Sleeman refereeing the CQ Capras and South Logan Magpies at Browne Park in 2015. Lisa Benoit ROK230815lref3

"She didn't shy away from answering questions and she showed a real strength and courage.

"She was definitely a stand-out in the course.

"Belinda had a real passion for and a true love of the game.

"Back in those days girls couldn't play football after under-12. She was never going to be a footballer so refereeing was her avenue.”

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Hamilton obviously made his mark as a mentor and friend as well, with Belinda phoning him on Monday night to tell him of her appointment, just as she has for every significant career milestone.

"She rang and said 'Uncle Hamo' (even though we're not related), I've got some good news.

"You couldn't take the smile off my face and I'm pretty sure she had an even bigger smile on her face.

"Belinda is a fantastic role model for females in sport and this appointment is significant for female sportspeople everywhere.

Rockhampton's Belinda Sleeman has brought up her 50th game as a tough judge in the NRL.
Rockhampton's Belinda Sleeman brings up her 50th game as a tough judge in the NRL. NRL PHOTOS

"It says that females can do anything.

"Belinda is so unassuming about her achievements and it's going to be great to see her refereeing in the NRL.”

Hamilton said Belinda "did not look back” after refereeing her first game - an under-8 fixture at Gracemere.

She quickly worked her way through the junior ranks to ultimately referee an under-18 grand final and take her place as a touch judge in A-grade.

"Every time she did a game she moved forward,” Hamilton said.

"She was like a sponge and was looking to take on as much information as possible.

"She was always looking for feedback on how to perfect her game.”

After about five years refereeing in Rockhampton, Belinda made the move to Brisbane.

After a short time training with the high-performance squad she was appointed to her first State League as a touch judge in the Intrust Super Cup.

NRL Round 26. West's Tigers host Cronulla Sharks at Leichhardt Oval today. First female touch judge Belinda Sleeman pictured.
Belinda Sleeman became the first female touch judge in an NRL game in 2014. Sam Ruttyn

The trailblazer became the first female touch judge appointed to an NRL game in 2014.

She started refereeing ISC games in 2015 and two years later was a touch judge in four Tests during the World Cup.

She was handed the whistle for a Broncos-Wynnum Manly trial game in February this year and upon receiving a full-time NRL contract moved to Sydney.

Belinda notched up her 99th game as a touch judge in the NRL at the weekend.

Hamilton will be at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday to witness Belinda's magic moment.

"I'm very proud to have been involved in her early days of refereeing,” he said.

"But this is all credit to Belinda and her hard work and sheer determination.”