Heaven at Dubai Sevens
STEVE WILLIAMSON may have controlled the Far North Coast Rugby Union first grade grand final between Ballina and Grafton but his refereeing highlight of 2007 came well after the Australian rugby season had finished. Williamson, who lives in Brisbane and commutes every weekend to officiate locally, refereed at the Dubai Sevens earlier this month. Controlling a host of former international stars in front of a crowd of 32,000 people in an exotic location would rate highly in anyone's book. "I've refereed and played in South-East Asia, the Pacific and Europe and without a doubt Dubai is the highlight," Williamson said. "Being in front of 32,000 screaming ex-pats was just great." Williamson was hosted by the Arabian Gulf section of the International Rugby Board. Former Casino referee Grant Bateman, who works and referees in the United Arabs Emirates, helped set up the trip. Williamson was picked as the Far North Coast representative after he was elected as the top local referee by locals clubs following a survey organised by the FNC Referees Association. Lismore's Jack Quigley, 19, was selected as the top junior referee. It was the first time a survey of this type had been done by the local referees as they try to build ties to local clubs. While Williamson got the plum trip to Dubai, Quigley was hosted by the South Canterbury Referees, New Zealand, earlier this year. Other whistleblowers Mick Melino (New Zealand) and Rob Walker (Dubai) also travelled overseas to referee. The exchange programs with associations in New Zealand and Dubai is just another way the FNC Referees are trying to entice more members into their ranks. The trip to Dubai capped a remarkable year for Williamson. It was the 48-year-old's first season refereeing locally and he enjoys the FNC so much he's looking at moving his family to the area permanently. A former player and coach for 30 years in Sydney, Williamson is also a qualified referees coach. "Refereeing is the only way a 48-year-old can get onto the rugby field and not get smashed," he said. "It's the best seat in the house."