Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Serious step up to the Canes

Marty Banks (centre) racked up a record-setting 131 points in 10 appearances for Buller last season, leading them to the Lochore Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Marty Banks (centre) racked up a record-setting 131 points in 10 appearances for Buller last season, leading them to the Lochore Cup. Photo / Getty Images

Marty Banks has taken the long road to making something out of rugby.

The Tasman utility has had club stints in Christchurch, Auckland and Nelson, plus a five-month interlude with Russian side Krasny Yar in 2011. He's played for Canterbury age-group sides, the Crusaders development XV and even enjoyed a season with Buller in the Heartland Championship last year.

By his own admission, the 24-year-old has never taken the game that seriously but he's just landed a Super rugby deal with the Hurricanes and will play in the capital next year, so that may shake things up.

"I probably would change a little bit," he said of his career path. "I would have put a bit more hard work in back in the early days but that's all going to have to start now. That's just the way it goes."

Banks was playing for Takapuna in Auckland when the opportunity came via the Canterbury Rugby Union to head to Russia where he linked with Krasny Yar.

The Russian league is played during their summer and the hottest weather Banks played in was 45C. Aside from enjoying the occasional vodka, he said it was more of an opportunity to see a different part of the world and estimated the top three sides in Russia would be on par with a strong club team in New Zealand.

"The footy was all right when you played the top teams but those games didn't come around that often," he said. "You'd play one strong team then wait around for another month or so to get another decent one."

The offer of a two-year contract with Krasny Yar was on the table but Banks left the country before their bitterly cold winter kicked in and came back to New Zealand, which began his path to provincial honours with Buller and now Tasman.

Curiously, for a bloke who has a diploma in sport and fitness, he barely lifted a weight until last year and he cops a bit of stick from his Tasman teammates about his thin frame.

"There's a lot of nicknames that are going round and I'm a pretty easy target," he laughed. "I've never really got anything to say back to them because it always just comes back to my lack of size. It's not easy being a little white guy in a big man's sport."

He's listed at 1.91m and 91kg but despite looking like a decent gust of wind might blow him over, his output can't be argued with.

In the past two games, Marty has banked 52 points, including a Tasman record 28 in the Makos' 28-13 win over Northland last week, while he booted another 24 in the 64-28 rout over Waikato on Wednesday.

He's made 18 of his last 21 attempts at the posts, which he can't put a finger on as he hardly struck the ball with such consistency when he played for Nelson club side Waimea Old Boys this season, helping them towards their first title since 2002.

"It must just be the little bit of extra pressure that makes me wake up a little bit and put a bit more extra focus into it. I think I'm normally about a 70 per cent kicker so to be kicking at 80 per cent or whatever it is ... it's a surprise to me."

A fullback first and foremost, Banks has been employed at first-five in the past two weeks, with sparkling results, and considering he didn't make Tasman's original ITM Cup squad, things have gone along nicely.

Banks, who is from the small West Coast town of Reefton, made his debut for the Makos in their upset 40-20 win over Counties Manukau in week three and it's been smooth sailing since.

His kicking off the tee and general play is the main feature of his game but his distribution skills are top-notch and he has no fear taking the ball to the line in attack.

He's now scored 103 points this year, which follows on from the record-setting 131 he racked up in 10 appearances for Buller last season as he led them to Lochore Cup glory.

Tasman are the runaway leaders in this year's Championship division and look odds on to be fighting for promotion later this month.

They'll continue their push for the playoffs in New Plymouth meeting Taranaki on Sunday.


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