Three stalwarts of the game have been recognized for their great service to the rugby league and have been awarded a lifetime membership for their many years of service.
Congratulations to Bert Petersen, Mick Merchant and James Ward on their recognition.
Bert Petersen – QRL North
Bert Petersen has volunteered for rugby league for over 43 years in a variety of roles on and off the pitch.
Petersen has coached for over 30 years for clubs such as Centrals ASA, Charters Towers, Ayr-Colts and Hughenden, where he also coached the Mid West. Thanks to his many years of dedication, he has coached players and years later also coached their children.
During his coaching career, Petersen won 11 premierships.
Petersen has also served in the administration and as chairman of the Townsville and District Junior Rugby League he has brought about significant change and aided the growth and development of junior players.
Working tirelessly for the competition, Petersen can be found on the pitch every weekend, volunteering his time to ensure the games and competitions run smoothly. During the week he is involved in meetings or coaching academies and has also been instrumental in developing the junior rugby league draws.
Petersen has shaped and shaped the league into what it is today. An important factor has been the implementation of a code of conduct for parents, spectators and players, making rugby competition in a more pleasant and safe environment.
Petersen also introduced a new academy for junior players, known as the Stingers Academy, and he restructured Townsville’s representative program, giving more players the opportunity to play at a representative level. Country clubs have also been given more opportunities to represent Townsville under his leadership.
Petersen became a lifelong member of Centrals Junior Rugby League in 2008, where he was also its secretary and chairman.
Petersen was also awarded a lifetime membership of TDJRL in 2019. Petersen was also the chairman of the Northern Junior Council and was a delegate on the QRL Northern Division Board, as well as the QRL Juniors Board.
Mick Merchant – Toowoomba Rugby League
Mick Merchant started his rugby career as a player while a student at Toowoomba Souths State School. He also played junior football for Toowoomba Souths in Under 16s and Under 18s as a halfback.
However, after sustaining a serious ankle injury, he was given medical advice never to play again.
That was not the end of his rugby league story, however, with Merchant then transitioning to a match official and taking on the role after being invited to the Toowoomba Rugby League Referees Association meeting.
In 1962, at the age of 19, Merchant started lines for five shillings per game – and just 18 months later, he whistled his first game, an under-16 game between Souths and Newtown in Newtown.
Merchant’s first A Grade was a match involving Souths at Toara Park and after several TRL A Grade matches, he was chosen as linesman for several games in which Toowoomba played touring national teams.
Merchant showed great ability on duty, in 1977 Merchant whistled its first TRL A Grade grand final.
In a long and distinguished umpiring career spanning 34 years of service, Merchant has been involved in four TRL A Grade finals, officiating in the Amco Cup, in state league matches, in several Caltex Cup matches and finals and also in several Woolworth 500s matches and finals.
Merchant was also rewarded with representative matches, and was the referee in an international match between Brisbane and New Zealand in 1978.
He was a linesman for three interstate matches between New South Wales and Queensland and also led the line in the 1978 Test match between Australia and New Zealand, the same match Greg Platz, another Toowoomba rugby league identity, played in.
Merchant was also involved in a number of other notable games including a Clydesdales match against a NSW country led by Mick Cronin and the match between the Clydesdales and Sydney Easts led by the legendary Arthur Beetson.
He was a member of the TRL Referees Association for 34 years, where he held the positions of chairman and secretary. Merchant became a Life Member of the TRL Referees Association in 1972. He was also Secretary of the South West Referees Association for two years and a Director on the TRL Board from 2012 to 2020.
During his career, Merchant has received a number of awards including the Queensland Rugby League Best and Fairest Referee Award, the TRL Referee of the Year (Silver Whistle Award) five years in a row and the Queensland Rugby League Referees Board Award for lifetime service as a referee.
James Ward – Sunshine Coast / Gympie Rugby League
Few people can boast of having served in a local league for 30 consecutive seasons, but James ‘Wardy’ Ward is one who can proudly do so.
Ward started his tenure with the Queensland Rugby League in 2010, but had a long history in the game for many years.
Mentioned in both the Sunshine Coast and the Wide Bay Regions in the mid-century (main image), Ward was a talented player who first picked up the ball at age 14, before playing A Grade for Nambour, Caloundra and Kawana as either a player or captain/coach.
Representative honors included donning the jersey for the Sunshine Coast in the 47th Battalion and for Wide Bay.
In more recent years, Ward became better known as a strong manager of the game.
Ward’s achievements in the game are many, but a major achievement revolves around the evolution of senior rugby league, including a unified brand for rugby league on the Sunshine Coast, integrating the juniors, seniors and the national league team.
Under Ward’s leadership, the Sunshine Coast senior league experienced significant growth and during his time in the QRL’s Sunshine Coast office, the local A-class league expanded from five teams to nine and in total the league grew from 27 to 54 teams in total.
Known for his eye for detail, this force has been evident in his work to reshape competition judging and judicial processes on the Sunshine Coast.