Reuben Porter trades solar panels for the second row

Jasper Bruce |

Reuben Porter is on top of the world after realising his NRL dream with Wests Tigers.
Reuben Porter is on top of the world after realising his NRL dream with Wests Tigers.

Apprentice electrician Reuben Porter was installing solar panels on a Sydney roof when Wests Tigers coach Benji Marshall called. Suddenly, his decade-long wait was over.

A physically gifted forward, Porter had relocated from New Zealand as a teenager with dreams of an NRL career, and things couldn’t have gone any better.

He won the 2014 SG Ball grand final at the Sydney Roosters, counting current superstars Latrell Mitchell, Angus Crichton and Joey Manu as teammates.

But once he aged out of the junior sides, luck seemed to have deserted Porter.

If it wasn’t injuries, including a year-long achilles lay-off, it was the NSW Cup’s COVID-19 hiatus that impeded Porter in his quest for an NRL debut.

When he injured his hamstring just as the reserve-grade competition resumed, Porter had some decisions to make.

He had spent years watching his mates achieve their NRL dream, but  now into his mid-20s the good-natured Kiwi was beginning to give up on his own.

“It got to a point in time where I really had to think about giving it up,” he told AAP.

“I’ve got a family now, I’ve got a young one. Nights away from the missus and the baby are tough.”

For years, Porter had supplemented his rugby league income with jobs as a labourer – sometimes book-ending 12-hour days on the site with a gym session and footy training.

In 2023, he began an electrical apprenticeship. If rugby league wasn’t going to be a career, something else needed to be.

Porter joined the North Sydney Bears in the meantime, reuniting with good mate Jesse Marschke and hitting form on the charge to the NSW Cup grand final.

“I sort of found the love for the game again,” he said.

That was when the Tigers came calling to gauge Porter’s interest in a train-and-trial deal for the 2024 pre-season.

“At the time, me and my partner were weighing up whether to keep playing semi-professional or play local,” Porter said.

“We had a chat and she said, ‘This is probably our last chance. You don’t want to regret anything’.”

Porter accepted the offer, continuing to juggle his new trade with NSW Cup games to begin the season.

When Marshall’s phone number flashed on his phone at work this month, Porter knew it could only mean one thing: a long-awaited first NRL cap.

“I was buzzing,” Porter said.

“But my workmates aren’t really into footy. I told them and they were like, ‘Oh yeah. Cool.’

“I was like, ‘This is really a downer’. I thought, ‘I better tell someone else’. I called my partner and she was crying.

“I’ve got to give it to her. Two months ago, it was getting tough, and she was like, ‘Just keep going, trust me, trust me’. I pretty much owe it to her.”

Porter finished his day at work, but has since quit his day job to focus on footy full-time – a luxury he’s never known before.

After playing 70 minutes at prop in the famous 18-10 defeat of Gold Coast, Porter will earn a third NRL cap playing second row as his last-placed Tigers chase another upset against Canberra.

On the road to Campbelltown Stadium, Porter would be forgiven for reflecting on the decade that’s been.

“I sort of wake up every morning and still don’t really believe it,” he said.

“I’m here now. I get to throw a ball around for a job at the moment. There’s nothing really better than that.”