Former NRL referee Paul McBlane has died

Paul McBlane, one of the original referees in the united NRL competition, has died after suffering a heart attack.

Former NRL referee Paul McBlane has died at the age of 53.

It's understood McBlane suffered a heart attack.

McBlane was one of the game's top referees in the 1990s before being forced to retire because of heart problems.

"He died in his sleep Tuesday night - he just never woke up," McBlane's best friend Duane Bennett told Rugby League Week.

"He lived with my family in Sydney and was to marry my sister-in-law.

"We are all devastated - he was a champion bloke."

As a mark of respect, referees at this weekend's Auckland Nines will wear black armbands.

McBlane officiated in 97 first-grade matches, having made his debut in 1994.

"He was one of the original NRL referees," league whistleblowers' boss Tony Archer said.

"His referees number was 10 - meaning he officiated in the first round of the National Rugby League competition in 1998.

"He was also one of the first full-time referees.

"The thoughts of the entire refereeing group go out to Paul's family."

Source AAP

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