Highlanders 'class clown' Marty Banks a key man on and off the field
A couple of months ago Marty Banks wasn't in the Highlanders plans at all.
The popular first five-eighth had said his goodbyes at the Highlanders after his second campaign with the southern team.
He had signed to play for Italian club Treviso, but for personal reasons the stint playing in Europe this year never eventuated.
A season-ending knee injury to Hayden Parker in January then prompted a return to the Highlanders set up.
Three games and a host of injuries later Banks has quickly become an important figure for the Dunedin-based Super Rugby team.
He's an option to take on the first five-eighth role against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday. If he doesn't land the job his versatility to cover other positions is also vital in the 23 as the Highlanders continue to do a patch up job to their bruised backline stocks.
But the reality is Banks' positive contribution to the Highlanders stretches beyond his playing abilities.
He is the self-confessed 'class clown' at the Highlanders - a key role which has been able to help mould a unique team environment during his time in Dunedin.
"I still cop as much flack as did before I was going to leave, I'm still the class clown so nothing has changed," Banks said.
Much of the Highlanders resurgence from competition strugglers to a frontline team in recent years has been put down to that enjoyable environment and the ability to have a joke in between the serious times.
"[The fun environment] is a strange sort of thing, we don't try to force it. All the boys just take the mickey out of each other.
"Just with the makeup of the team, everyone seems to gel. You've got to have thick skin, I suppose. If you give it you've got to be able to take it."
"If it was all serious every minute of the day it would probably be like a boxing ring and we'd be fighting amongst each other.
"We definitely do the off-field stuff well but obviously we have got to make sure we do the on-field stuff well as well."
Coach Tony Brown has hinted towards lining Otago youngster Fletcher Smith up in the No 10 jersey against the Hurricanes on Saturday night.
Banks, however, remains a trustworthy option for yet another New Zealand derby for the Highlanders.
"I enjoy playing first five but it is all up to the coaching staff."
"I think Browny is considering throwing himself into the mix and Elliot Dixon has made a comment he wants a go so there seems to be a few contenders," Banks joked.
"Whoever gets the job I'm sure will do a good job and whoever is coming off the bench I'm sure will also do a good job. We'll just leave it to the coaches to decide who they go with."
As soon as the Highlanders Super Rugby season is complete Banks will in fact head to Italy for a delayed start to his time playing for the Treviso club.