Pick'n Go
Marty Banks shows value of persistence, third-tier
Sam Bruce
March 9, 2015
Chiefs 17-20 Highlanders (Australia only)

The Highlanders recorded easily the biggest upset of round four in Super Rugby as replacement Marty Banks kicked two late penalties to seal an unlikely three-point win. Highlanders players quickly mobbed Banks after his second successful penalty, and, back across the Tasman, you could have forgiven Australian rugby bosses a wry little smile. That is of course, if reports the National Rugby Championship has its survival guaranteed for the next six years are correct.

What do Banks' late heroics in Hamilton have to do with Australian rugby? They serve as a timely lesson regarding the value of an established professional third tier.

One of the Tasman "Fins up" brigade, Banks has been a star of the ITM Cup as the Makos have completed one of the great turnarounds in New Zealand provincial history. The side at the top of the South Island have gone from stone-cold, motherless last to runners-up in just a couple of seasons.

Banks, himself, was rewarded with a Super Rugby contract at the end of the 2013 ITM Cup but made just five appearances for the Hurricanes in 2014; it could easily have ended just there.

But Banks - who bears a striking resemblance to Saved By The Bell's Screech - returned to Tasman intent on showing he deserved another crack at Super Rugby; a short while, and a competition-high 175 points, later, the Highlanders came calling. It's a two-year lesson in persistence, and one that demonstrates the value of an established third tier.

Marty Banks deserved the plaudits of team-mates in Hamilton © Getty Images

The National Rugby Championship, Australia's version of the ITM Cup, is still very much in its infancy after an inaugural season that showcased some great rugby - and has already seen a number of players graduate to Super Rugby.

But the competition failed to resonate with fans, with the nine clubs particularly disappointed with the lack of promotion from the Australian Rugby Union; Gary Flowers, the North Harbour Rays chairman, meanwhile noted at a Rugby Business Network function in Sydney during November that franchises had operated at a "substantial loss in the inaugural season". Rumours about the competition's survival had swirled ever since, with speculation that broadcaster Fox Sports would not be renewing its current Aus$2 million deal beyond the competition's second season.

However, News Corporation reported recently that Fox Sports was close to signing off on a deal that would see them broadcast the competition - or at least a "third-tier competition, not necessarily the NRC in its current format".

If that does in fact turn out to be the case, and the upgraded television rights deal - which is taking an awfully long time to organise - sees a healthy increase on the Australian Rugby Union's finances, the governing body then must ensure it spends the cash wisely.

The union's first move should be to lighten the load on struggling clubs and players who've been hit hard by the game's new "levies". And, following that, the NRC should be the next item on the agenda. Improved promotion and financial assistance for each of the franchises is a must.

The NRC is unlikely ever to reach the heights of the ITM Cup in New Zealand or the Currie Cup in South Africa, but Australia absolutely needs an established professional third tier if it is serious about remaining a contender on the international stage.

Marty Banks was persistent; if the ARU officials get the cash we've heard so much about, they must be, too.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.