GROUP Three Rugby League may have to include more split rounds this year to counter a possible shortage of referees.
This follows the loss of three experienced whistle blowers who controlled first grade last year.
Brendan Vidler and Zac Schembri have both left the area while Wayne Archer is suspended. Archer can referee after June 30 but he told the Times this is unlikely to happen.
Schembri, who refereed last season's grand final, contacted Group Three secretary Barrie Smith this week to inform him of his unavailability.
"He's applied to join the Queensland Police,'' Mr Smith explained.
"However, until that happens he'll be refereeing on the Central Coast, where he's from.''
Schembri is also in a NRL referee development program run by Shayne Hayne.
Mr Smith described the lack of experienced referees in Group Three as 'a major problem.'
Referee's association secretary Ken Fuller told the Times recently that there will be 19 referees available for matches this season.
However, Mr Smith pointed out that there's one more first grade game each week this year, with the addition of Macleay Valley.
"It's a fairly long season and we'd only need to get a couple of injuries or have referees unavailable and we'd be in a bit of trouble,'' Mr Smith said.
As it is some referees will be backing up to do games on Saturday and Sunday while a number also control junior games on Saturday mornings.
"We'll monitor the situation but it could be that we have to include some more split rounds to lessen the workload on our referees. At this stage we only have the one split round.''
If this is the case it will mean the grand final would have to be played later than September 7, the day it is presently scheduled for, although Mr Smith assured this wouldn't cause any great problems.
"We just have to get a new date for our presentation night,'' he said.
Another option would be to play some matches mid-week although it would be expected clubs would be against the idea of having night games in mid-winter.
Mr Smith expects the first grade duties this year to be shared between Barry Murray, Darren Hooper, Jason Allan and Warren Holstein.
"We have two younger referees, Lincoln Blissett and Cameron Thomas who are now qualified for Level II but I wouldn't think they'd do first grade this year, although they will probably referee under 18s,'' he said.
"Maybe someone else will step up to the plate.''
Mr Smith said a lack of referees isn't exclusively a Group Three problem.
"It's NSW Country-wide,'' he said.
The Group Three competition-proper will kickoff the weekend of April 26-27. There could be an early headache for the referee appointments board, with Wingham/Port Macquarie the only game scheduled for Saturday April 26 with three to be played on the Sunday.