Six Wellington referees have been included in New Zealand Rugby's National Referee Squad for 2019.
Mike Fraser and Ben O'Keefe head the list as they return to the national squad as professional referees while they are joined in the 34-strong squad by Monique Dalley, Nick Hogan, Richad Gordon and Vincent Ringrose.
The squad will officiate in a range of competitions, including Investec Super Rugby (professional referees only), Mitre 10 Cup, Mitre 10 Heartland Championship, Farah Palmer Cup, Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 Tournament and other domestic fixtures.
Wellington Rugby Union acting chief executive Matt Evans congratulated those chosen in the squad which he said was a result of the hard work the group had put in.
"It was also encouraging for those referees coming through the grades in Wellington to see there is a clear pathway at a national level."
Wellington Rugby board chairman Peter Scott added his congratulations to the group.
"It's a fantastic result and not only a reflection of their own dedication and ability but to the support and fostering of the Wellington Rugby Referees' Association," he said.
NZR National Referee Manager, Bryce Lawrence, said selectors were focused on building strength and depth towards Rugby World Cup 2019 and an increase in domestic competition matches in 2019.
“I challenged our selectors to be bold and brave and I am delighted with the squad chosen. Next year will be huge with the Rugby World Cup in Japan and we are hoping to have at least four match officials selected for that pinnacle event,” he said.
“With the women’s game growing at a fast-rate and other domestic competitions constantly increasing in quality, we need to build depth and internal competition within our national squad to ensure we have enough quality referees to match the volume of games being played.”
With one eye on the future, Lawrence said he was excited to see the current group of referees push for selection at both Super Rugby and Test match level.
“We understand that it takes anywhere between two to five years to develop a referee in the high performance environment and I am really interested in how each referee will respond to the opportunities and challenges. It is encouraging to see so many referees come through the programme and I am excited about what 2019 holds.”