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Retiring at 25 to work in a Kurri mine

Not many get to say they’ve played rugby league at the highest level, let alone for as long as Reegan Tanner.

After debuting at age 20, the backrower was well on the way to racking up a huge number of NRL appearances.

In fact, he had 85 to his name before he disappeared into the rugby league wilderness at age 24.

After serving loyally for four seasons under Michael Hagan, Tanner began to run into issues when new boss Brian Smith arrived on the scene prior to the 2007 pre-season.


“I needed an operation at the end of 2006, but I’d already booked and paid for a holiday to England,” Tanner told the Our Town Our Team Podcast.

“This was before I knew Smithy was coming to the club.

“When he came to the Club and we had meetings with him, he said his advice was for me to not go and get my operation.”

Tanner instead decided to go to England, with the recovery time for the surgery expected to be short enough that Tanner would be back running before the start of pre-season.

However, trouble began when he picked up an infection after the operation.

“I ended up getting staph, which put me back a couple of months,” Tanner said.

“So, I kind of didn’t start on the right foot with him (Smith) there.

“I spent the first half of the year playing reserve grade.”

Tanner was then told mid-year he wasn’t in Smith’s plans for the 2008 season, leaving him to explore his options with other Clubs.

A mid-season shift to North Queensland seemed to be a near-certainty, before the terrain shifted again.

“I was all set to go, then the following week I was picked in first grade,” he said.

“I was just happy to play for Newcastle, so called off the whole North Queensland thing and backed myself to get a gig at the end of the season.”

“I backed myself to get another contract here, and they (the Knights) said they didn’t want me.”

A short stint with a Melbourne Storm feeder team on the Central Coast followed, before Tanner gave the professional game away for good at age 25.

Rather than chase another contract, Tanner instead looked towards his future in the workforce.

So, when the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs came knocking with the promise of work in the mines, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I didn’t want to be a player who just kept hanging around in the reserve grade comp,” Tanner said.

“It just so happened that Kurri were offering jobs in the pits, so I jumped at that.

“Fingers crossed I’ll be doing this until I retire. I’m earning more money now than I did playing footy, so for me it was no-brainer.”