Wakefield Super League referee Ben Thaler will mark his birthday with the “biggest achievement” of his career when he takes charge of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final today.
Thaler, who turns 34 on Sunday, will be the referee for the big showdown between Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR at Wembley Stadium and while he has officiated big games before, his first Challenge Cup final will be something to savour.
Thaler has previously refereed the World Club Challenge between Leeds and Melbourne Storm, two games at the 2013 Rugby World Cup and has had the roles of Challenge Cup final video referee and reserve referee.
He said: “I’m ecstatic to have been selected. I set out to do this and I’ve finally managed to do it and I’m really happy to have been selected.
“This final is still the biggest achievement. I can start throwing out some of the old medals to make room for this one.
“People have sending me texts or ringing up to congratulate me because they know it’s something I’ve always wanted.”
But Thaler recognises that he must not let the occasion get to him, saying: “I won’t approach this game any differently. Obviously the occasion is completely different and there’s the added pressure of 80,000 people watching. I just have to make sure I don’t mess up.”
Thaler stumbled into refereeing by accident and it has been a long way to the top but he has finally reached his dream.
He said: “I played rugby at school with Ben Westwood, now of Warrington Wolves, and we took our referee exams at the same time and he did a bit of refereeing.
“I did a course at school and ended up refereeing one of my brother’s games when the official didn’t turn up.
“That was back in 1994 and it’s taken me over 20 years to get to referee at the pinnacle of rugby league.”
But Thaler has also maintained his links with grassroots rugby league and remains actively involved in the game in Wakefield, as chairman of Wakefield Referees Society.
“I think it’s important to remember where you came from and where you started, I’m a big believer in that,” he said.
Richard Silverwood, from Mirfield, and Batley’s James Child will be tomorrow’s video referees. Jonathan Roberts, from Batley, is reserve touch judge.