It's official! Top ref Russell's ready to take on best

by Peter Smith TOP referee Russell Smith is confident he will be leaving Super League in good hands when he jets Down Under to begin a new career in Australia's National Rugby League

Castleford-based Smith – the reigning international referee of the year – is preparing to head out to Australia to begin an initial eight-week stint in what is rated as the best competition in the world.

Smith has been one of the British game's leading officials for around 15 years, but he said: "There are good referees coming through.

"I had a conversation with (referees' controller] Stuart Cummings before I knew I was going to Australia. We discussed things for the season and went through the people who did well last season.

"There are lads coming through beneath Super League now and I have no doubts the lads who are in there at the moment are a decent standard and they will do really well.

"It is an opportunity for some of the young guys and they will take it. Some of the young lads who have been

promoted in the last couple of years have a lot of ability and I have no doubt they will do very, very well this season."

Smith is due to take charge of his first Australian game on Sunday,

February 27, when he will be in the middle for a trial match between Manly and St George.

Smith will be the first Englishman to referee on a regular basis in the NRL and he said: "I have done 15 years at senior level over here and I've loved every minute of it.

"But I have got to the stage in my rugby league career and life when the lure of doing something in another country is very strong. It is an exciting prospect.

"I want to take the opportunity now, rather than wait two or three years and then discover the chance has gone. It is purely down to the new challenge of doing something completely different for myself and giving my family chance to experience a different way of life.

"Initially I am there for eight weeks and as time progresses during that period we will assess how things are going. I might extend the stay, but we will take it from there.

"I want to keep things open. I would certainly never turn my back on Super League and you never say no, but at the moment it is impossible for me to tell what will happen.

"I will keep an open mind and see how it progresses."

Smith is not expecting any resentment from Australia's established NRL referees.

"I know Tim Mander very well from the times he's been over here," said Smith. "We get on extremely well and he has been very positive about me going over.

"He says it has put a spring in his step because it is competition for places. He is looking forward to the competition and rivalry between us and I think the other referees are the same.

"I won't really know until I get to over there, but the reaction does seem to be positive."

Smith is confident he can adapt to the Aussie style of play.

"I have done 18 internationals involving Australia and I have a lot of experience refereeing their senior players," he said.

"I hope having refereed in Australia and New Zealand many times will stand me in good stead. With a bit of luck I should be able to adapt to their style of play.

"The first objective is to get a

regular place in the NRL, which isn't going to be easy because they have got some very good established referees.

"If I can hold some good form in the NRL, anything beyond that is a bonus."