Rick?s final whistle
By GREG WHITE
WHEN referee Rick Purton gave his whistle a final blast in the astonishing Group 2 grand final between Macksville and Orara Valley recently, it drew the shutters on what the man himself describes as an "amazing ride."
Within a year of playing his last game, a reserve grade decider for Batlow, Purton made his debut as a first grade whistleblower.
The year was 1986, and within months of arriving in Coffs Harbour, he gained his initial top grade appointment.
"It was Rex Hardaker Oval in 1992 when the Panthers played Orara," Purton remembers.
"The Axemen won 38-0 with Simon Shipman and Darren Blaikie the only players I recall from the match."
Rising quickly in the ranks, Purton's first grand final appointment came two years later at Coronation Park when Orara beat the Roosters, yet football was the farthest thing from his mind.
"Our twins were born that week," he said, "and people seemed to be taking more interest in the babies than the football."
Over the years there have been memorable matches, along with some he'd rather forget.
But one game remains graphic, as it does for anyone who saw it, or heard about it later.
"2003 at Coramba was the stuff legends are made of."
That match was Macksville's 30-23 premiership win over Orara Valley, the contest taking almost five hours to complete due to the career-ending injury to Adam Cody.
"The atmosphere was electrifying and the football was superb right up till Adam got hurt.
"As soon as I saw him lying there it was obvious something was badly wrong so I raced off to get Dr. Chris Knight.
"For a little while it was panic stations."
Without mentioning names, that was the afternoon some of the toughest men to play in this area allowed tears to mix with the dust on their cheeks as they stood around the fallen Cody.
"Still sends a shiver down the spine," Purton said.
"Thank God, Adam is recovering."
Purton has no doubt as to the best player he's refereed.
"Brett Davis," he offered, without needing to think.
And he's got advice for anybody considering taking up the whistle.
"Youv'e got to seriously want to do it and be fair dinkum about being the best you can be.
"The pay means nothing.
"It's all about setting goals and going for it."
His one regret?
"Not getting to control grade football in the NRL."
There have been approaches to begin coaching referees but that isn't necessarily where Purton sees his future.
"I will get out cold turkey to start with, then see what happens.
"Ultimately it would be nice to do something along the lines of what John Cullen has done at Orara.
"A club appointment, guiding players on how to interpret the rules and get the maximum out of the flow of play, maybe I can see myself doing that."
If that's not an open invitation to a club with foresight, what is?