Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Rugby league referee credits family and cultural upbringing for success

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Rochelle Tamarua is the the first female referee to officiate in the Fox Memorial Trophy, Photo: Auckland Rugby League
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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

Rochelle Tamarua is no stranger to making the big calls.

After picking up the whistle from the age of ten, there is no denying that she is well equipped to handle the pressure moments. 

Her resume speaks for itself: the first female referee to officiate in the Fox Memorial Trophy, last year, she made her debut as an official in the Women’s National Rugby League (WNRL) competition in Australia as well as at the Rugby League World Cup in the UK.

And now, she faces another historic chapter in her career, delegated to referee the Maori vs Indigenous All Stars Womens match in Rotorua on Saturday night.

It’s an opportunity that even she couldn’t believe would come true. 

“Last weekend we sent out the appointments. I just go straight into the touch judge lines and look for my name and I’m like, oh my gosh, my name is not in there!” Rochelle says. 

“So I decided to look properly and I saw my name. It just said referee and down the bottom it said, Rochelle Tamarua. 

“It was a huge moment and I was glad I was surrounded by family and friends when I received the news.”

“You know we forget that Pasifika women and people are so strong and powerful,” she says. Photo: Auckland Rugby League

The same family support that surrounded her, has also been at the forefront of Taumarua’s journey to the top. 

Raised and nurtured in a humble Cook Island home in Central Auckland, culture and family became core values for her right from the start.

While the NRL and NRLW celebrate the importance of indigenous heritage tomorrow night, it was fitting that she reflected on her humble beginnings.

“682 to the world!” she proudly says.

“I’ve got a big support network within my family. I always start my day with my pure (prayer), giving thanks to God for the life he has given me, and for giving me such an amazing support system.”

Tamarua believes that her strength and endurance reflects the support shown by her parents and family. 

Juggling her career as a match official and also her other duties in the past, many sacrifices were made in order to get to where she is.

“My parents have been supportive of not just me but also my sister who played in the NRLW. They taught both of us to always check up on your siblings no matter what.

“It’s hard work, but if you’re determined to reach your goals and keep persevering through all challenges, you’ll be able to, you know, achieve that dream.”

When she’s not on the field controlling the flow of a match, Tamarua fulfils her duties as the Referee Development Officer at Auckland Rugby League and also her duties as a Pasifika woman empowering her community.

They’re two completely different callings, but both sharing similarities for her.

“You know we forget that Pasifika women and people are so strong and powerful,” she says.

“You sit a woman amongst a group of men, and we grab the attention straight away. That is just like refereeing as well. I would be controlling 26 males during a match and I am the only female.

“It’s something that people forget that we as Pacific people have so much power.”

While she has accomplished a lot in the Rugby League arena already, Tamarua has other goals for the future.

In a male dominated sport, she hopes to lead the way for the upcoming generation of Pacific and indigenous girls wanting to be involved in the sport in whatever way. Her daily role as the Referee Development Officer is where she hopes to lead these programs.

“My dream is to go back to the Cook Islands to deliver a referee’s program. That is the ultimate dream to give back to my people”.

Mental health is also a major factor of the job that she is advocating for. Currently there are support groups in the rugby league arena that give support to officials and players.

It’s the same initiative that she hopes can be implemented in New Zealand through the different levels of the sport. 

“With all these support systems being put in place, I hope that Auckland Rugby League gets on board too plus the Auckland Referee Association too.

“We get abused not only on the field but also on social media. It would be good having the proper care and help for referees and players for such situations.”

The Women’s All Stars match kicks off tomorrow in Rotorua at 1:30pm and will be televised live.

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