CONDUCTOR: Group 2 leading referee Nathan Grace.
CONDUCTOR: Group 2 leading referee Nathan Grace. Trevor Veale

Whistle blower honoured after a decade of deciders

RUGBY LEAGUE: As the full-time siren rang across Geoff King Motors Oval at the end of the first grade grand final, a smile quickly spread across the face of referee Nathan Grace.

It wasn't a smile of happiness, but more one of relief after the book had been closed on another Group 2 season and the pressure released.

It also brought to a close Grace's 10th straight Group 2 grand final, an honour rarely bestowed on a whistle blower.

"It was just like all of them, really, there is always a twist somewhere,” he said. "There was a few nerves there before kick off, but that's just normal. If you aren't nervous before a big game like this, then you don't care enough about what you do.”

Grace stood in a first grade grand final for the first time in 2006, when he marched the sidelines for the decider between Port Macquarie and Sawtell.

He was touch judge twice, before refereeing a reserve grade grand final in 2008, and then going on a run which culminated on Sunday.

For Grace, it was an honour to be given the opportunity to round out a decade of deciders.

"Of course I am proud, I would be lying if I said otherwise,” he said. "It is like any player, you strive to do the best you can and this is our grand final just like it is those guys'.

"The first grade grand final is the biggest honour of the season for officials, and we are competing against each other to get the opportunity just like the players.

"To be rewarded again, it is very humbling.”

It has been another tough season for the men in pink, with criticism flowing thick and fast from the stands, but it is something he has come to terms with.

"The spectators just want the best for their club, and that's how they see it,” he said. "We just need a thick skin.”