Makos bank on rising star

Marty Banks
Marty Banks

After six ITM Cup appearances, 130 points, a Facebook fan page and a 2014 Hurricanes contract, Marty Banks, the Reefton-raised Tasman Makos first five-eighth, is the talk of this year's NPC, writes Clay Wilson.....

It's funny what happens when you take your chances - just ask Marty Banks.

In April, after scoring a record 131 points for Buller as they lifted the 2012 Heartland Championship's Lochore Cup, the lanky first five-eighth/fullback from Reefton moved to Nelson, in search of higher honours. Following a stint with the Crusaders development side, Banks linked up with the Waimea Old Boys club, and was optimistic of earning a spot in the 2013 Makos squad. How things can change.

Marty Banks
Marty Banks

Since then, Banks' ascent to the upper reaches of New Zealand rugby has been meteoric. He has become one of the most talked about players in the ITM Cup, scoring 130 points in just six appearances, a new Makos' individual season record, which has helped them secure a championship division semifinal against Southland, in Blenheim on Saturday. Among those 130 points are 28 he notched against Northland, also a new Makos' record for most points in a match by an individual. Just a week later he had signed a contract with the Hurricanes for the 2014 Super Rugby season.

The 24-year-old some call "A4" because of his relatively slender frame, agreed his success had exceeded expectations.

"I never had a goal, definitely not this year, of playing Super Rugby. It was more just about trying to make the Makos squad and get the odd game, because I knew they were quite a good team, and I didn't really see many gaps there. I just thought I'd try and make the [initial squad], learn from the guys that were already there, and pick up any game time I got given."

And if someone had told him back in April he would be where he is in now?

"I probably would have laughed, to be honest. If they had said I'd play for the Makos I probably could have seen that, but if someone said I'd be part of a Super Rugby squad in 2014 I definitely would not have taken it seriously."

In some ways, it is easy to see why Banks is relishing his new-found success. His climb up the rugby ladder has been far from conventional.

Brought up in Reefton, he spent year 13 at Christchurch Boys' High School, and was a member of a first XV who were runners-up in the 2007 Press Cup. After school, he played club rugby in Christchurch and made the Canterbury Colts. In 2011, he turned out for North Harbour's Takapuna club before heading to, of all places, Siberia, to play for leading Russian club Krasny Yar.

He returned to his roots last season and, following Buller's success, decided it was time to have a crack at the next level. After helping Waimea lift the Nelson Bays club title, Banks narrowly missed out on the final Makos squad, and it was not until veteran fullback Robbie Malneek was hurt that a chance came.

"When Robbie got injured I got my chance at fullback. I guess I had to take my chances because I knew the moment I didn't I was probably going to be pushed back out. My expectations weren't too high and I'm just glad I got an opportunity."

Since his round three debut against Counties Manukau, when he scored 20 points, Banks has made the most of his opportunities.

"It's helped me a lot having [Tom Marshall] at No 12 outside me. Not many people understand what he does for me, but he's the rock in our backline, and takes a big load off my shoulders. When it gets a bit tough he's always there to pull me out, and give me a word."

"I didn't find out until after the games that I'd even broken those records. It's awesome, but the boys are scoring a lot of points and I'm just the benefactor of it . . . all the games I've played we've scored quite highly, so as long as I do my job as a kicker I should really pick up some easy points."

During his rise to fame over the past six weeks, Banks has acquired cult-hero status. As of yesterday, an unofficial Marty Banks' Facebook page had received 1745 likes in just three days. Not one to crave the spotlight, the man himself blamed team-mate Joe Wheeler for much of the celebrity he had attracted, but acknowledged it was all in good fun.

"I've got this ‘white battler's tag' and Joey is leading that at the moment, I've been thrown in his category. It creates a bit of banter around the team and I've just got to take it on the chin, but it's all good humour. I think [Sky rugby commentator] Sumo Stevenson didn't help too much, he pushed it along, and him and Joe have been working together a bit."

He has also been the the ultimate Tasman man this season, having played for both Marlborough and Nelson Bays. Add Buller to that list and Banks said that had been another source of humour among the team. That aside, he was loving being a Mako and hoped Tasman was where his long-term future lay.

"I cop a bit of stick about that, all the clubs and unions I've played for . . . out of the Seddon Shield unions I only have to play for West Coast now, but that might not get ticked off. I hope it doesn't.

"I couldn't think of a team I'd want to play for after playing for this [Makos] team. It's not just the rugby as well, the boys in general are awesome guys. I remember going into camp, I was shy as hell, and I'm pretty quiet in a new environment. They welcomed me in and made me feel like I was meant to be there. I guess that's what helped me with my performances, I feel part of the team and that's all credit to the guys. They didn't treat me like an outsider when I got there, and that's built my confidence."

As for Saturday's semifinal against Southland, Banks said the team were confident, but had identified some things that needed to improve from last weekend's victory over Manawatu. He was in no doubt the Stags would offer a stern challenge and said the Makos needed, and were hoping for, a big home crowd to cheer them on.

"We know [Southland] will be tough and they are coming right at the right time of the year. We're not going to take them lightly and anything can happen in a semi.

"Everyone keeps saying a semi is harder to win than final, so we hope the Marlborough faithful and everyone in the area will come out and get behind us, because it's awesome to have that home crowd cheering you on."

The Marlborough Express