‘He wasn’t stopping’: When Webby flattened a rookie ref

Gavin Badger’s legendary NRL refereeing career was only minutes old when Carl Webb left his mark on it.

It’s round 17 of the 2004 season, and a BroncosRabbitohs clash at a packed Suncorp Stadium was Badger’s first of what would turn out to be a 355-game and 17-year career.

The Broncos were camped on the Rabbitohs try line when Webb barged his way into and through the defence.

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Badger, standing in position behind the Rabbitohs line, thought Webb was going to just barge over, put the ball down and that would be that.

But Webb wanted to put it down under the spot.

“I thought he was just about to put the ball down, (but) he keeps running towards me,” Badger told Wide World of Sports.

“He’s still coming, still coming. I’m like, ‘I haven’t got time to get out the way here’. 

“I looked at his eyes and I knew he wasn’t stopping.”

Badger did a perfect reverse somersault and used the momentum to jump straight back to his feet to point to the spot.

“Then he sort of almost snarled at me after I got back up. I was sort of laughing a bit,” he said.

And then skipper Gorden Tallis gave the young ref some sage advice.

“Just as he was walking past, he has a bit of a laugh and just says, ‘mate, if you want to tackle Webby, you gotta go low’.”

Webb died on Thursday afternoon after a four-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease. He was 42.

Badger said the pair never discussed that incident until years later when the pair found themselves at an event in Sydney ahead of one of Webb’s boxing bouts.

“We had a pretty funny conversation about it, and he just said ‘oh, no matter what was happening, I was taking you out. That was my opportunity and I was taking it’,” Badger said.

Webb retired from the game in 2011. 

Badger said he didn’t get too many more chances to referee Webb, and barely had another on-field interaction with him.

But then neither did many of his colleagues – except perhaps Bill Harrigan, who famously sent Webb, Casey MacGuire, Monty Betham and Wairangi Koopu to the sinbin after an all-in brawl in a fiery encounter between the Broncos and Warriors in Auckland in 2003.

Even then, Webb didn’t start it. He just wanted it finished.

Badger said the Maroons legend wasn’t on the list of players a young referee was coached on how to manage.

“Billy (Harrigan), Paul Simpkins, Steve Clark and Tim Mander were the group that were refereeing first grade when I was starting to make my introduction,” Badger said.

“Webby wasn’t one that we spoke about a lot at all, because he wasn’t aggressive to referees – he wasn’t one of those guys who you had to put in their place.

“You virtually didn’t even hear from him on the field … he just went about his business. 

“He was more focused on belting other fellows than having run-ins with referees.”

But, having seen numerous players come off second-best after a run-in with Webb, Badger said the outcome could have been far worse.

“I’ve seen some players getting taken out by Carl Webb and not get up as quick as I did, so I’ll wear that one.”

Badger retired from first-grade refereeing in the 2020 season. His wife Kasey made history in the final round of the 2023 season when she and Belinda Shape became the first women to ever referee an NRL game.

He remains involved in the game in a referee development role with the NSWRL.

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