The fan-favourite Banks helps fill an experience gap left by departing All Black Lima Sopoaga and the recent announcement of the Hurricanes signing Fletcher Smith. Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane shapes as the future of the Highlanders, but will compete with Banks and ex-Blues first five Bryn Gatland for the starting jersey this year.
“We already had Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland locked in, and we have been really pleased with how they have progressed in Mitre 10 Cup, and feel they are ready to step up,” head coach Aaron Mauger explained.
“In the end, what we were looking for is somebody to add just that little bit of experience to the group, someone who can mentor those guys through, but also compete and challenge for that number 10 spot.
“We feel with all the guys we assessed, Marty was the best candidate for that role.
The Highlanders front-row stocks received a boost with the signings of hooker Ray Niuia, and props Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnston and ex-Queensland Red Sef Fa’afase.
“Part of the learnings from the 2018 Highlanders was our ability to contest up front against bigger sides.
“So that’s one thing we were looking at [a bit of size] when we were looking to recruiting our forward pack, a bit of bulk, and we feel that Ayden Johnston and Josh Iosefa-Scott are going to give us that up front, a well as Sef Fa’agase.
Current props Aki Seiuli and Kalolo Tuiloma are believed to be out for one season, following injuries in the Mitre 10 Cup.
“Aki did his knee playing for Otago and Kalolo sustained a neck injury playing for Counties. It is likely he will have surgery in January that will rule him out for the whole season.
A major snare was the recruitment of Hawkes Bay and last year’s Hastings Boys halfback Folau Fakatava. The 19-year-old halfback was injured in the national 1st XV semi-final and subsequently missed his chance to play in the New Zealand schoolboys side. His elevation into a Super Rugby squad already speaks to his pedigree and what he will potentially bring to the Highlanders in the future.
“I reckon he is going to add a real spark to this team, and that’s what we are looking for, something a little bit different,” Mauger explained on Fakatava’s signing.
“He’s a very young man, still only 19-years old. He’s been up in the Hawkes Bay environment for a number of years. Probably still a little bit green, he hasn’t played a lot of minutes but we see massive potential in Folau to bring a different dynamic to our game.
“He loves having a crack, backs himself, and is very physical for a smaller guy and he’s just got ‘game’.
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