Ashley Klein has opened up on his snubbing from the NRL grand final, saying he is excited for Adam Gee, but promising to be back "bigger and better" next year.
The referee, who was dropped from on-field duties after a pair of howlers in this year's semi-final between the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters, was seen as a chance to come back to do the grand final regardless after his replacement Gerard Sutton missed a forward pass last weekend from Reece Walsh.
Gee has been constantly one of the better referees in the competition in recent seasons, and will now have the chance to referee the decider with Klein in the bunker.
Gerard Sutton has been dropped from the day entirely, with Grant Atkins to serve as the standby referee.
“Like all the players who start the season, they want to be playing grand final day, and the referees are no different,” Klein said per The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We have a squad of 18 and only one of us can do it. It's Adam's turn, and I hope he goes out and goes really well. I'll be doing my best to assist him in the bunker.
“Adam is one of my closest mates in the squad, we did a lot of games under the two-ref system, so I'm really excited for him."
He has also regularly handled match of the round, the biggest finals and performed double duty. On each occasion a referee was dropped for poor performance this year from the bunker, Klein would end up being involved in three matches per round, with one on-field and two in the bunker.
His experience will be even more important in 2024 with the NRL refereeing squad hit by Ben Cummins' retirement.
Despite his axing, Klein said he wasn't about to give up refereeing.
“I've always said I'll stop refereeing when I stop enjoying it. I love refereeing. I'll be back bigger and better, and what this creates is competition for the entire squad to perform well," he said.
Adam Gee's debut grand final will kick-off at 7:30pm (AEST) on Sunday evening, while Belinda Sharpe (NRLW) and Wyatt Raymond (State Championship) officiate in the earlier games on grand final day.