Kobe Rodger has set a new standard for young rugby league players to follow in the Western Bay.
The Tauranga Boys' College Year 12 student has become the first player to be contracted by an NRL club while still at school in Tauranga. He has signed a two-year contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs to begin in January.
It has been a remarkable progression for Rodger, a talented hooker from the Otumoetai Eels club. He got his break after playing a starring role for WaiCoaBay Stallions under-18s at the Ruben Wiki Challenge Cup in January.
He made the tournament team and was picked up by a Rabbitohs agent who invited him to go to Sydney to play in a trial game. The agent had a connection with long term Otumoetai Eels coach and president Stan Nicholas so took a punt on Rodger.
"In July I went over and had a trial for the Rabbitohs under-18s. It was a pre-season game for the NSWRL SG Ball competition against Cronulla Sharks," Rodger said.
"The guy that was the coach didn't know I was from New Zealand. He was a bit surprised and said he would see what he could do to organise a contract for me. Then I met up with the recruitment manager of the Rabbitohs and they gave me a contract."
Rodger played rep footy at Waicoabay with Hayze Perham from Rotorua Boys' High School, who has been signed by the Warriors.
Next year Rodger will stay with family friends in Balmain and continue his studies by correspondence, while starting a trade and playing in the SG Ball competition that runs from February to May.
Rugby league has always been Rodger's preference even though he also played rugby union since he was a kid.
"I played both codes since I was six. Rugby was fun but league was my main game. I just didn't like the scrums and how long it took to put the ball in and the breakdowns in rugby.
"Rugby league was just a free-flowing game. I stood out more in league because it didn't matter what size you were. I could be in the middle of the park and still be the smallest on the pitch and get noticed."
Rodger is looking forward to the style of league played in Australia.
"The game is faster over there and that suits me better. It is not so much about big hits and stuff, more about using your head, so I am looking forward to playing more of that football."
He will soon begin a journey he hopes will see him make the NRL one day but Rodger has not forgotten all the help he has had over the years from the Otumoetai Eels.
"I have been there since I was 10 and all the adults there have always supported me and cheered me on, congratulated me and pushed me to go further.
"I don't know where I would be without them," he said.