Field Umpire Martin Rodger marked his AFL introduction at the grandest stage of them all, as Melbourne giants Hawthorn and Essendon served up a high-octane contest at the MCG in Season 2023 Round 1.

Martin teamed up with Brent Wallace, Mathew Nicholls and Leigh Haussen to take charge of proceedings on the day, with over 68,000 spectators flocking to the ‘G’.

Reflecting on his maiden run-in at the tradition-steeped venue, Martin said, “To be out on the MCG on a Sunday afternoon on Round 1 with almost 70,000 people there, was just an unbelievable experience. It really was a dream come true.”

He played down any signs of nerves ahead of his top-tier debut, with his full focus set to the match at hand, “I was telling myself that I didn’t really have time to be nervous, because there are too many people there watching.”

(Left to right) Brent Wallace, Leigh Haussen, Martin Rodger and Mathew Nicholls during the 2023 AFL Round 01 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Essendon Bombers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

Having the support of experienced colleagues in Brent, Mathew and Leigh was an advantage, Martin noted, “The way that they approached the game with me, that I didn’t feel any need to be nervous, because I knew that they had my back and they were going to be supporting me for the entire day.

“They’ve made the transition to umpiring AFL as smooth as it possibly could have been. So, they’ve been terrific and they are also great people.”

Martin’s foray into umpiring came at just 15, through the Northern Football Netball League. He has since scaled greater heights, with 31 AFLW games, five VFLW and 82 VFL matches to his credit.

Martin Rodger in action in the VFL. (Image supplied by Martin Rodger)

He went on to umpire in the 2017 AFLW Grand Final, the 2019 and 2022 VFL Grand Finals, and picked up the VFL Umpire of the Year honours twice (2019 and 2021).

Following his inclusion to the AFL Rookies’ List first in 2020, he was promoted to the Senior Field Umpires’ Panel before the 2023 Season.

As he had climbed the State League ranks, Martin highlighted the importance of being resilient with his craft, and the support of several coaches along the way, including Kevin Smith, Cameron Nash, Hayden Kennedy and Scott Jeffery.

He added, “It certainly has been a long and massive part of being able to prepare myself to make the jump up to the AFL. It’s probably also a good thing that you don’t always have things go your way. Sometimes, you are going to have disappointments along the way.

“I think that’s a really important piece about building resilience and sticking with it, and that’s what makes getting to the AFL feel as special as it does.”

Martin was our special guest at the AFLUA X-Umpires’ recent luncheon at the Caulfield Glasshouse, and AFLUA President Chris Donlon interviewed him on the eve of his AFL debut.

(Left to right) John Russo, Martin Rodger and Kevin Smith at the AFLUA X-Umpires’ Luncheon at The Glasshouse in Caulfield.

Pleased with the interactions he had with our retired umpires’ group, Martin said, “It’s fantastic to see that umpiring culture from years gone by still living on. They’re laughing and joking and they’re telling stories from 20, 30, 40 years ago.

“It’s great to see that that bond carries through well after their umpiring careers have finished. You could feel the mateship in the room at the X-Umpires’ function that day.”

Having progressed this far with his umpiring career, Martin shared his message to anyone aspiring to take up umpiring, “I started umpiring when I was 15, purely just to earn some pocket money on a Sunday. I quickly found out that I just loved it. It was a lot of fun. It was a great challenge. I was doing something that no one else was doing, and it was interesting.

“Along the way, I have made so many great friends, and have had a bucketload of memories and so many opportunities and experiences that I just wouldn’t have had, had I not picked up a whistle. So, I’d just encourage everyone to have a go.”


Congratulations, Martin, on your AFL debut. We wish you the very best for the season ahead.

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