TODAY sees me refereeing the Anzac Test match between Australia and New Zealand for the 20th time in my career but the circumstances are very different to what they were 12 years ago.
After spending all my career in England I took the plunge earlier this year and moved to Sydney to see if I could hack it in the National Rugby League.
It was a bit of a gamble, I suppose, but the move couldn’t have worked out better and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience.
That both Australia and New Zealand are happy to have me in charge for today’s match in Brisbane is flattering but they’ve had a chance to see me at first hand in domestic rugby over recent weeks and they know what I can do.
So much is different down here that for the first few matches it seemed the only similarity between the Australian game and Super League is that the teams have 13 players.
It’s been a massive learning curve for me. The referees train together as a group all day on Monday, from about 7.30am to mid-afternoon on Tuesdays and on Thursday evenings and for a couple of hours on matchday and that time is invaluable.
They have done a lot of work with me and changed my game completely. I got through my first couple of matches on instinct but now I feel it’s coming together and I’m a lot more comfortable with things like rule interpretations.
I haven’t been reading the newspapers and have deliberately kept away from the radio stations because I don’t have anything to gain from what people are saying about me.
I made a couple of mistakes in a match between Penrith and St George recently and though the clubs accepted it I did get a fair bit of flak in the media. Bobby Fulton, the former Australian Test coach, even joked that he was prepared to pay for my return trip home out of his own pocket.
A lot of the criticism tends to be tongue in cheek and the reaction from the Aussie crowds couldn’t be more different to how things are in England.
The feedback I’m getting from the NRL is good, they’re quite happy to have me here and as long as that’s the case then I’m more than happy to stay.
The climate is perfect for the outdoor life but the heat has surprised me. I did a match in Canberra recently and it was 28 degrees. And this is their autumn!
We’re having a great time as a family and the fact that everyone has settled in so quickly has made the whole experience fantastic.
We’re living close to the ocean in a suburb of Sydney called Sylvania Waters. I hadn’t heard of it before but apparently it featured on some fly-on-the-wall TV show shown back home.
The house is just five minutes from some wonderful beaches and backs on to the sea. It’s a beautiful part of the world and the kids, especially, are loving it. Chloe, who is 13, had her reservations at first but she’s made a lot of new friends and is very happy.
My youngest, Jordan, is having a whale of a time. He’s been attending a golf clinic and playing in junior tournaments, we’ve been sea fishing, boogie boarding and he’s started to play rugby for the first time with an under-9s team at Cronulla. He has his first game next week and we can’t wait to see how it goes.
We have just informed the school in Yorkshire that Chloe and Jordan won’t be back next term and will be looking at schools in the Sutherland area in a couple of weeks when the holidays are over.
In the long term our plans are open but for now we’re having a great time and are looking to stay longer than we had first planned.
Russell Smith was talking to John Ledger.