Kiwis international Te Maire Martin has opened up about his abrupt exit from the Penrith Panthers, admitting he became a “passenger” in his final games before he was axed to reserve grade.
Martin will fly to Townsville on Sunday to begin training with the North Queensland Cowboys the following morning, desperate to link up with Johnathan Thurston after turning down the opportunity to learn from the two-time premiership-winner when he left the Wests Tigers in 2015.
It could be quite a baptism of fire for Martin, who faces the prospect of lining up against the Panthers next Saturday if Michael Morgan or Thurston are unavailable to back up after Origin II.
After negotiations with the Warriors fell over, the Kiwis international has signed a deal with the Cowboys until the end of 2019, but given Thurston and Morgan’s stranglehold on the halves position, he leaves the Panthers without the guarantee of a regular NRL position.
The 21-year-old said his decision to turn down the Cowboys two years ago was because of his desire to fast-track his NRL career, but he now sees things in a different light.
“I’ve got a lot of time. I’m still in my learning phase,” Martin said.
“I’ll just soak in as much as I can from JT and try and work on my game. When I turned them down before, there was a part of me that just wanted to play first grade. Penrith was a good opportunity. I didn’t really look too much at the learning side of it back then. Now I have a clearer understanding.
“I still have a long time to play first grade. I can learn off Thurston as much as I can – it’s only going to make me a better player. When I got a call from my manager saying the Cowboys were interested, it was hard to turn down when Thurston is up there. I’m at the early stages of my learning so what better way to learn than from JT himself.”
Martin was the victim of Penrith’s inability to fire in the early parts of the season given the expectation the Panthers would be challenging for a premiership in 2017.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin always had question marks over Martin’s physicality, but Penrith fans were optimistic Martin and Nathan Cleary would be their six and seven for the next decade.
Unfortunately for Martin, who made his test debut for New Zealand during last year’s Four Nations, he knew his days at the foot of the mountains were numbered after his side’s 28-2 loss to Cronulla in round seven.
“Hook and I just had a talk when I did get dropped back to reserve grade,” Martin said.
“He wanted me to find some form again. I was just playing and going through the motions and not playing my normal footy. That’s the reason I got told to go back and try and fix it. I was probably making one kick a game and not running as much as I usually do or not ball playing as much as I usually do. I was being a passenger. Especially that Cronulla game, I had a bad game. That’s when I got told.
“I know my form was down and I just wanted to get back to playing good footy in reserve grade but it was quite tough. Things happen – that’s just how it works. I would have liked to have stayed at Penrith. It is what it is. This is a new opportunity for me now. I feel good that it’s finally all settled. I am stoked to get up there.”
Martin was close to signing with the Wests Tigers but when Josh Reynolds agreed to join the joint venture next year, he was reluctant to return to his old club for half a season and be on the lookout for a new home.
The Warriors also came close to landing his signature, but according to Martin: “I was talking to them but it didn’t really work out.”
Despite a couple of months of uncertainty, Martin is thrilled to be joining the Cowboys.
“I went up there when I was looking at Penrith and I ended up choosing the Panthers,” he said.
“It’s pretty good that they still keen on getting me there even though I turned them down that time. They obviously have Morgan and Thurston up there, so I’m not sure what’s happening. But I’m keen to learn.”