Aoraki district referee Reon Hatata said he was in complete disbelief when he received a text informing him he had been named the Southern Zone Rugby League 2023 Volunteer of the Year.
"There was no indication, nothing, I got a text saying congratulations on the below, we need your address to send your prize. I was like ‘oh what it this’ so I clicked on the link and went through to an article saying I’d won and it was just like wow.
"Actually seeing someone write down what you’d done during the year was pretty crazy, because that’s just the rugby league side of my life, I have a whole other side as well when it comes to coaching and refereeing soccer. It’s been a big year.
"You don’t feel like you’re doing that much, but when other people are seeing it you must be doing something right."
"You do all this stuff, and I don’t expect awards and I don’t expect recognition but when Southern Zone, who represents the entire South Island, which has thousands and thousands of teams and each team has hundreds of volunteers, who I would think do more than me, it just blows me away really."
In 2023 Hatata was heavily involved at a local level refereeing both junior and senior competitions, tournaments and playing a major part in the training and recruitment of new referees within Aoraki.
He was also involved in the South Island Nines, South Island Youth and South Island Women’s tournaments as a referee, he also touch judged in the South Island Men’s Championship.
Notably, he made regional history last year, by being the first official from the region to be appointed to a premiership-level game when took touch line duty for Otago versus Canterbury in the New Zealand Rugby League National Premiership .
Hatata was also part of the referee team at the National District Nines and the National Secondary Schools Tournaments.
He said this year was shaping up to be just as busy as the last.
"This year for me starts on the 17th of February in Christchurch for the South Island Nines tournament, then Easter weekend they have the National Nines in Auckland so I hope to go back to that.
"The following school holiday we have the youth tournaments. So I’ll be part of the South Island tournaments and then there are three championship games down at Forsyth Bar that I hope to be a part of.
"After that there is the national youth tournaments in Auckland or Rotorua so I hope to be picked for them as well."
He said the goal for this year was to be the number one referee from the Aoraki district and anything south of it.
"There are a lot of referees in New Zealand, you sort of have to push those guys off and make your path.
"Southland and Dunedin struggle a bit, as the guy who was the number one left to go to Australia, so hopefully I can fill that void.
"I’m 48 now, I’ll never get to go referee international games or the NRL or anything like that, but that’s not the dream. The dream is just to be involved more in the national side and just continue training people in this area.
"I’d like to see more referees getting involved, more people getting involved and if you really want to do it I’m here to help."