It's hard to imagine Daytona Porter as "an incredibly shy kid" who once found it difficult to speak up.
Not when you see the 17-year-old commanding the field as a burgeoning Group 16 rugby league referee, keeping the players - most older than her - in line.
It has been a quick rise for the young referee, from donning the green jersey at her first opportunity at 13 years old, to just three years later being selected to run her first senior grade games.
Given her age, Daytona is only permitted to be an on-field referee during the ladies league-tag games, but she also runs the sidelines every weekend for the first grade and reserves.
Once she turns 18 in March next year she will get the opportunity to referee the men's games.
"It's a whole different dynamic in the senior games," Daytona told the Bega District News.
"I got to referee my first rep game a few weeks ago - my first tackle game of the year.
"I realised how fit I was! In tag the play keeps moving quickly, but I found during the tackle game there was time to collect my thoughts and make sure I'm making the right call.
"You do need to be much louder though!
"Every Monday I have a sore throat - if I wake up without a sore throat I know I didn't do a good enough job."
It's a far cry from the timid young girl battling nerves before running on for her minor rugby league appearances just four years ago.
"I used to be terrified - even when I was about to ref the under 9s, and they didn't even keep score!" Daytona said with a chuckle.
"But it's got to the point I'm not nervous anymore. I know I'm good at the job."
She said refereeing has taught her invaluable communication and leadership skills.
"I was an incredibly shy kid. Refereeing has taught me to lead on my own now though.
"I look back to that quiet little kid and now I see a whole future opened up."
This weekend, Daytona is one of 40 young referees from across NSW taking part in a NSW Rugby League development camp.
In 2021 she was named the Tathra Junior Rugby League club person of the year - the first female to ever win the award.
She also has a regular after-school stint with the local PCYC as a youth mentor and role model.
"I can't speak highly enough of Daytona," PCYC Far South Coast manager Melanie Nast said.
"We are thrilled to have her on board. She is mentoring other young teen girls and 'inspirational' is the word I would use."
While inspiring others to consider a role on the football field other than as a player, Daytona acknowledges there are particular challenges around refereeing.
Not least of which is sin-binning 30-year-olds!
"My first senior game last year I had to sin bin somebody. A lot of the time the entire spotlight is on you," she said.
"I know there's still a belief by some that girls don't belong on the field and I've had people in the crowds yelling 'take the little kid off'.
"I'd end up going home crying, but you learn to develop a thick skin.
"Referees are professional athletes. We have to run just as much as anyone on the field - sometimes more.
"And I don't even hear the crowd anymore."
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I have worked as a journalist since 2005 and am now Editor of Australian Community Media mastheads in Bega, Merimbula and Eden
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