By MITCHELL DALE
AS a fullback plying his trade for the famous Turvey Park rugby league club, Rick Purton dreamed of one day playing 200 first grade games.
Two broken jaws put paid to those aspirations, but on Sunday Purton will do the next best thing.
Purton will celebrate his 200th first grade match as a referee when he takes control of the Nambucca Heads-Port Macquarie clash at Coronation Park.
It has been a long road to the double ton for Purton, who first signalled time-on in a first grade match in the now-defunct Group 13 competition.
Purton, who had stints with Turvey Park ? home of internationals Steve Mortimer and Greg Brentnall ? and Wagga Brothers, retired from playing at the ripe old age of 25 and picked up a whistle the following year.
"Yeah, I always wanted to do it as a player, but after I broke my jaw for the second time I lost a lot of confidence running the ball up," Purton said.
"So I gave up playing and then a friend who I used to play with suggested I start refereeing.
"It was only when I reached 100 games that I thought I would have a crack at 200."
Now that Purton has reached 200, will he try to go on for another 100?
"I don't think I'll make it that far," he said.
"I have a young family now, so I'll just see how this season goes and take it from there.
"I still want to do this year's grand final, it would be a nice way to go out."
Just to survive as a referee for 200 games is an achievement in itself.
To make it through relatively unscathed is another feat altogether.
And while most players won't admit it publicly, they have a quiet respect for Purton, who has become part of the furniture at local matches since his Group 2 debut in 1991.
"The players are pretty good," he said.
"I think it is because of the experience factor and they all know me.
"There is respect both ways, I respect the players and they respect me."
Purton keeps close tabs on the amount of games he has done and maintains computer statistics on each side he referees.
He even knows which team he has penalised the most.
So which Group 2 side has felt the wrath of Purton's whistle most often?
While all local coaches probably have their hands raised at the moment, the correct answer is...
"I can't tell you that," he said with a dry laugh.