St Helens’ Tara Jones has spoken exclusively to MerseySportLive after becoming the first female to referee a men’s professional rugby league game.

Jones joined the rugby league history books on Sunday(14 April) after refereeing League One fixture Oldham v Cornwall.

In doing so, Jones became the first female to referee a men’s domestic senior professional rugby league game in the northern hemisphere.

Why this record is different to the rest

This latest record is one of many Jones has to her name.

In 2018, Jones was the first female on-field match official in a Super League match.

At time Jones was only 21-years-old and acted as in-goal judge in a Wigan v Wakefield clash.

Jones’ records aren’t limited to refereeing either.

In her own career as a player, Jones has broke numerous records.

Jones was the first ever captain for St Helens Women RFC upon its establishment in 2018.

She is also the first female to score a try at Wembley in the Women’s Challenge Cup final. A record she achieved in 2023.

Tara Jones goes over for a try. Photo license to Alamy.
Tara Jones goes over for a try. Photo license to Alamy.

However, when speaking exclusively to MerseySportLive Jones explained what makes this different from all the rest.

Jones said: “It’s really nice to have the records in my name and throughout my career and being the first to do a few different things.

“This one is showing the next step in my career as a match official in regard to the progress and the hard work I’ve done previously.

“It’s also ground-breaking becoming the first female to referee a men’s pro game in the northern hemisphere.

“I think it’s just shows that the women’s game is going from strength to strength and that the opportunities are becoming more and more equal.”

Whilst Julia Lee was the first female referee in Rugby League, this is the first time a female reached the elite professional domestic sphere in the northern hemisphere.

Timeline of female referees in rugby league

Elsewhere, similar records have been broken with Belinda Sharpe becoming the first female referee in top-flight Australian rugby league in 2019.

Welcomed by fellow match officials

The desire to keep pushing her career forward

Despite her recent success in breaking boundaries that no female has before, Jones shows no interest in settling her career at this point.

Jones explained: “This weekend was a massive milestone in my career and something I’ll always remember. I’m really really proud of myself but it’s not my end goal; I want to keep on pushing.

“At the minute whilst I’m still playing it’s hard to put an end goal on it and what that would actually look like in the future because I’m not too sure myself at this moment in time.

“There’s a lot of decisions and conversations to be had around it but I’m sure time will tell. I just want to keep pushing on and hopefully get regular games at this level and then see where we go from there.”

The challenge of refereeing alongside playing

Throughout her career in rugby league Jones has faced a challenge very few have had to face as she navigates her refereeing alongside playing.

After all, this weekend was not only of note because her role as referee, but also because Jones helped her side St Helens advance to the semi-final of the Challenge Cup.

2H00R6M Leeds, England - 10 October 2021 - Tara Jones of St Helens launches attack during the Rugby League, Betfred Woman's Super League, Grand Final, Leeds Rhinos vs St. Helens at Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, UK Alamy licensed
Tara Jones of St Helens launches attack during the Rugby League, Betfred Woman’s Super League, Grand Final, Leeds Rhinos vs St. Helens at Emerald Headingley Stadium 2021. Photo licensed to Alamy

When explaining how she navigates the two and prepares for a weekend such as last Jones stated:

“It can be difficult. Throughout the week you’ve just got to make sure you are doing the right things for yourself in training and things.

“If training might be extra-long metres because there’s no game, but I’ve got a game [as a match official], I might just be looking at my metres personally.

“To take this weekend for example where I’m doubling up, not only playing but refereeing then I’ll take it easy after work. I’ll pack my bags and have a nice, chilled night, get some food in.

“It can be difficult and it can take its toll but at the same time it is something I am used to and something I can manage quite well.

“I think it’s what keeps me going, so once I’ve played on the Saturday, I always need something extra so then I know I’ve got another game on Sunday to go referee.

“It keeps me busy. It keeps me active but it’s what I really enjoy doing.”

How refereeing makes her a better player

Next in action

Whilst Jones’s next venture in her refereeing is unknown, she will appear in St Helens’ next fixture.

St Helens play York Valkyrie in the Betfred Women’s Super League on Sunday(21 April) at LNER Community Stadium.

(Featured image by Alamy under agreed license)