Wests Tigers have picked up a new addition to the team – someone with over 400 games of NRL experience.
It’s not a veteran player at the end of their career, nor is it an experienced coach or trainer — it’s former referee and fan favourite, Gavin Badger!
With 18 years of NRL experience under his belt — 354 games as a referee and 57 as a touch judge — Badger is no longer on the other side of the whistle as he's joined forces with the club for season 2021.
But what exactly would a former referee do as part of an NRL coaching team?
“I’m generally here for field sessions when the boys have their opposed sessions — I jump in and officiate those and it gives the boys more of a game experience,” Badger said.
“This way the boys don’t yell at the coaching staff — they yell at me and they can keep their relationship there.
“It also gives me the opportunity to chat to the guys after that and tell them what could make an impact in the game.
“I also help out with a little bit of education with the mindset of officials in certain situations and in certain games, and how we can better our relationships there.”
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When Badger was told he wasn’t going to officiate NRL games in 2021 after 18 seasons in the top grade, he didn’t know what was next — but after bumping into coach Michael Maguire before a game, things became clearer.
“It was not long after it was announced that I wouldn’t be refereeing in 2021 and it just happened to be that I was at Brookvale Oval about to run the touchlines for Tigers-Manly game. I was just having a chat with ‘Madge’ [Maguire] in the tunnel and he was asking me what I was going to do next season and I wasn’t too sure,” he said.
“He threw up the possibility of doing something here [at Wests Tigers] — maybe a small role or however we could fit it in. I kind of forgot about it until I was contacted by Madge and [General Manager - Football] Adam Hartigan at the end of the season.
“I had a meeting with the guys and they agreed with what I thought I could do and what role I could play here and it went from there.
“I’m a rugby league tragic and I love the game but this is the last place I thought I’d end up.”
As a proud Indigenous man, Badger has also joined the club to make a difference off the field.
"The club has been big on building an Indigenous academy and making the club a really safe place for Indigenous players to come. Madge is really keen on that, so hopefully I can have a bit of an impact there," he said.
Having refereed the players on countless occasions over the years, Badger didn’t know how he’d be taken in by the players when he first joined the club.
No longer an outside, the former referee was blown away with the response of everyone at the club.
“It’s been really great seeing things from the other side. I’ve been used to being on the other side – a bit of an enemy to these guys,” Badger laughed.
“I didn’t have a personal relationship with these guys – I had a professional relationship on the field – so I wasn’t sure how they were going to take me.
“I stood in front of the boys to do a little presentation and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be accepted – I’m an outsider coming in.
"But at the end of it, they had some really good questions, and from that moment I felt I have a role here and I have an impact on this club being successful.”
Not only is Badger going to help Wests Tigers this season, he’s also here to learn off the best to further his professional career.
“It’s a self-improvement role for me too. I’m here to learn off Madge – one of the best coaches in the league – to help my personal development as a coach” he said
“I also coach young referees, I am still involved in that space … it’s going to make me a better coach and give me a better understanding of rugby league.”
His time at the club has all been smooth sailing so far, except for when he was thrown an oversized training kit.
"I turned up for my first training sessions and they threw me some gear, and the first gear they gave me was large and I thought ‘I don’t think they realise the size difference between players and referees, who are a lot smaller’," he laughed.
"When I put on my new gear at home when I was getting ready to come to my second session, and my wife Kasey had a second take and said ‘it suits you’."
"It’s a thrill to be part of this club and wear this gear. This club has so much history and the fans have so much passion – I’ve seen that from the other side of the fence ... to be part of over 100 years of history is quite humbling."