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Take the ref with the smooth

NRL referee Ben Cummins talks to school kids in Rolleston during his charity bike ride around Central Queensland.
NRL referee Ben Cummins talks to school kids in Rolleston during his charity bike ride around Central Queensland.

NRL referee Ben Cummins is no stranger to controversy, having copped his fair share of criticism from all corners of the game mid-last year.

But rather than dwell on the negatives, the 147-game whistle-blowing veteran said if anything, his experiences have just made him stronger.

Last week, Cummins swapped the football field for bitumen and joined fellow referees Gerard, Bernard and Chris Sutton on a 1000km charity bike ride from Toowoomba to Emerald.

Cycling Queensland's western highways was as far removed as Cummins could have imagined from ANZ Stadium in Sydney, where he controversially sin-binned the wrong man in an NRL match altercation in April 2010.

Both Cummins and Gerard Sutton were stood down for the blunder and told by referees' boss Robert Finch they would have to work their way back up.

Although frustrated by Finch's decision, Cummins said he took it on himself to see the lighter side of the situation, and less how the media was interpreting it.

"I'm also a school teacher and we talk a lot about resilience and bouncing back," Cummins told the Central Queensland News.

"Sometimes you can take those sorts of comments to heart.

"I'd like to think I'm a bit more mature about things now.

"I just try not to read the newspapers too much."

NRL video referee and fellow charity cyclist Bernard Sutton said it was the on-field experiences he missed most, after hanging up the whistle last year due to injury.

"I've had the same knee operated on seven times," Bernard said.

"Physically I couldn't run."

With all his adjudicating now done from a television screen as the video match official, Bernard said his decisions still counted for a lot but it wasn't the same as refereeing from the middle.

"When you are on the field, you're in the moment… you do miss the atmosphere," he said.

"In the (video referee's) box, you haven't got the same input.

"But you still play a pretty critical role.

"Every decision you make counts."

The youngest of the Sutton brothers, Chris, got the chance of lifetime from the NRL to referee the American Rugby League's 2010 Grand Final in Philadelphia, between the New Haven Warriors and the Jacksonville Axemen.

"It was an interesting experience," Chris said.

"I'm very privileged to have been a part of it."

Aside from the normal cross-cultural adjustments, Chris said it wasn't all that different to refereeing in his usual setting in the Toyota Cup.

"They've got a fairly large Kiwi influence over there," he said.

"So with mainly rugby union backgrounds, they weren't that keen on getting back the 10 metres."


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