Cowboys’ Martin eyes NZ World Cup spot

Growing up in the Waikato, Te Maire Martin knew only rugby union – until a chance acquaintance with the 13-a-side code changed his life.

“One of my mates’ dads was coach at the time (at Turangawaewae) and just said, ‘do you want to come along, see if you enjoy it?’,” Martin says.

“I did – and it just went from there.”

Having not played rugby league until he was 16, the ex-Hamilton Boys High pupil quickly rose through the ranks, abandoning union to pursue his new dream.

He crossed the Tasman to round out his schooling at the Gold Coast’s famed Keebra Park State High School, before a move in 2014 to the Wests Tigers.

Two NRL clubs later and with a runners-up medal for North Queensland, the 22-year-old is returning to where it all began – as his country’s leading five-eighth.

Martin and the rest of New Zealand’s Rugby League World Cup squad head to Turangawaewae, just outside Hamilton, on Tuesday for a pre-Cup bonding trip.

They’ll sleep in the Waikato township’s marae for three nights as they look to gel for this year’s Cup, starting in two weeks against Samoa in Auckland.

Martin has gone from reserve grade at Penrith and being released mid-season to a key playmaking role at the Cowboys in six months.

With future league immortal Johnathan Thurston ruled out for the 2017 season, Martin was injected straight into the Cowboys’ first-grade side for their improbable NRL finals run.

They ultimately lost the grand final to Melbourne.

But Martin’s strong form during that finals tilt hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Kiwis coach David Kidwell likely to hand him the No.6 jumper against Toa Samoa.

It would mark just his second Test cap.

“It’s good being able to play first grade and come off the season playing first grade – learned a lot, especially those couple weeks in the finals,” Martin said.

“There’s a lot of experience around here (so) I’m just trying to soak in as much as I can and learn as much as I can, and take it back to the Cowboys.

“It’s a truly humbling feeling to be in this camp.”

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