MITCH Rein was on top of the world. But as anyone who’s been in the same place will tell you – there’s only one way to go from there.
As he plummeted back towards the deep blue off the coast of Bali, he realised he was in trouble.
“I think I nearly drowned,” he tells Big League in the much more comfortable, familiar surroundings of the WIN Stadium sheds. “That’s an exaggeration but it was pretty big for me out there, it was probably the biggest I’ve ever surfed.
“I’ve never really caught that many big waves in my time.”
Back home in Wollongong, Rein can finally look back on the experience fondly. It would have been an ironic kicking of the bucket for the 22-year-old who is still sometimes shocked that he’s around to tell the tale.
To be snuffed out by a monster wave – it would have been like the Cookie Monster choking on an Iced VoVo.
“I was pretty scared,” he admits.
With a name like ‘Rein’, it’s not surprising that he feels a pull to the water. There is nowhere he feels more at home than cruising towards the shore inside a barrel or hanging 10 on a rolling crest.
“A couple of my mates used to live around the corner. We’d meet in the park just next to my house and go surfing before school most days,” he says. “We’d come back just 10 minutes before the school bus came and all run straight to the bus and go to school. Then do the same thing in the afternoon.”
The beaches of Gerringong, Kiama and Bombo became Rein’s playground but he soon had to make sacrifices for the game that’s turning him into a household name in those same suburbs.
“I used to surf every single day, without fail when I was younger but then footy started to get a bit more serious. Footy’s become my whole life really,” he says.
“I love surfing but footy’s my passion… It’s my No.1 priority at the moment and I try to do everything I can to improve each week.”
But if Rein didn’t have the most quintessential hooker’s build since Holly Golightly, we might well have seen him balancing on a Billabong instead of spiralling a Steeden.
“I remember when I was younger I always thought it’d be the greatest thing to be a pro surfer,” he says “up until under-16s when I was [playing] Harold Matthews [Cup] and started getting a bit more serious with footy.”
It’s been a hard road at times from the beaches of the south coast to its football fields – one that Rein will likely never forget.
And he still gets frustrated by people who think rugby league is more glamour than guts.
“It’s not as easy as everyone makes it out to be, there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and as much as we do train very hard, many people think that we don’t,” he says.
“We definitely earn our money because we’re working that hard. I know I’m coming home every day just absolutely buggered and falling asleep.”
Rein is one of the hardest working hookers in the NRL. He has the third highest tackle rate in the competition amongst No.9s behind Andrew McCullough and Kevin Kingston. He makes a tackle every 1.5 minutes.
“If I’m not getting any better, I’m getting worse,” Rein says, who has benefited from a master-and-apprentice relationship with Red V stalwart Dean Young.
“He’s been a great help, I’m forever thankful for all the extra work he’s done with me,” he adds. “It was a bit daunting coming in and playing with all of these great players…[but] Dean’s really helped me and taken me under his wing.”
Rein’s journey to the jersey made famous by league luminaries such as Ken Kearney, Ian Walsh and Steve Edge has been somewhat of an evolution.
He started out as a sea creature who could barely breathe without the ocean blue in his sights, then he grew legs and ventured onto the green grass of Wollongong’s many hallowed rugby league ovals.
At times an immature player over his first two years in the NRL, Rein’s brain is starting to develop and anybody who watched his match-winning performance against the Storm in Round 21 (36 tackles, one try assist, a line-break assist and a tackle-break) will agree that he’s grown a real rugby league consciousness.
According to very reliable online sources, there are 1.35 trillion-billion litres of water in the world’s oceans. Surely they won’t miss one drop of Rein.