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Sports reporter Michelle and rugby star Marty are engaged!

After a surprise proposal, the Highlanders rugby star and the TVNZ reporter share their romantic love story
Pictures: Joe Allison, Allison Images.

Love was definitely in the air the night Highlanders rugby legend Marty Banks and TVNZ sports reporter Michelle Prendiville first met, it just wasn’t supposed to be with each other – but now the couple are engaged!

That’s hard to imagine as Woman’s Day catches up with the blissfully happy, newly engaged couple, but their enduring love story didn’t start as you’d expect. In fact, the pair met while they accompanied friends on a first date.

“I was definitely surprised to be meeting the Marty Banks,” laughs Michelle, 28, thinking back to the night when she first laid eyes on Southland rugby star Marty in an Auckland bar in 2018.

“It really was just fate. Both of our friends didn’t want to go by themselves to the date, so they convinced us to come along. But from the moment we first spoke, Marty caught my attention with some flirtatious banter.”

A few days later, Michelle received an Instagram request from Marty, 34, who had mustered up the courage to ask Michelle on a date of their own.

“I was nervous and excited,” she recalls. “There was just something about him I really liked. I knew I wanted to know more, so we met up for a drink before Marty had to leave for his next rugby contract in Japan.”

And despite the fact Michelle was almost an hour late – Marty jokes, “It was the beers and beef sliders that kept me there!” – the pair went on to have a great night.

“His flirting was much better!” Michelle grins. “By the end of it, I knew there was a spark.”

The happy moment! Marty tricked Michelle into thinking they were taking part in a tourism photoshoot!

The couple kept messaging while Marty was playing in Japan and Michelle embarked on her journalism career in Auckland, as well as representing Midlands in the National Hockey League. Eventually, they realised they’d fallen for each other and decided to become official in November 2018.

“And then it was three years of long distance, which was really tough, but somehow we managed to make it work,” tells Michelle. “Then when Marty did come back, he moved down to the South Island for his next contract. So, I put a proposal to TVNZ for a sports reporter based in Dunedin. They were keen for more sports coverage from the lower South Island, so it was accepted. We finally got to live in the same place in 2021!”

Life has been blissful ever since, with Marty continuing to play rugby for the Highlanders and Southland, and Michelle continuing her dream job in sports journalism. But Marty realised towards the end of last year that it was time to pop the question.

“I was under a fair bit of pressure,” he laughs. “Michelle was dropping subtle hints, but I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy, so I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was getting advice from mates.”

But first, Marty came up with an elaborate way to ask her dad Steve for permission to marry his daughter.

He tells, “I asked Speights to create a few beer labels that read, ‘Steve, can I have your blessing?’ on the bottle, which was really cool. It took a few goes to get him to look closely at the bottles, but at last he clicked to what they said. He was stoked.”

Smiling, Michelle adds, “My dad loves rugby and beer, so he was really excited.”

Then, finally, it was time for the most important question of all. Unknown to Michelle, Marty had organised his photographer friend Joe to ask on Instagram for a couple to take part in a paid tourism photoshoot. After receiving numerous offers, but unfortunately not from a certain TVNZ reporter, Joe directly messaged Michelle to ask if she and Marty would do it.

Marty laughs, “I told her, ‘I can’t be bothered!’ But it was the perfect set-up. That’s why the photos are so nice and we’re not dressed like scruffs.”

Michelle says, “I couldn’t believe he didn’t want to do it – it was $500 cash!”

But eventually, on the stunning clifftop setting, with their local beach behind them and the sun just coming up, with a few hundred fake photos already snapped, photographer Joe gave Marty the signal to drop a knee – which he did, almost falling off the cliff in the process.

“It was steep!” he laughs. “That’s why my shoes are dirty in the photos.”

As for Michelle, she says she felt shocked when she saw the gorgeous diamond ring and realised what was happening.

“It vaguely crossed my mind when we rocked up, but then I thought there was no way Marty had organised this. It was the craziest thing. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable or happy!

“It was the cutest, cheesiest moment and I love it. Marty wears his heart on his sleeve. I love that about him – and how humble he is. He and I are best friends. We have the best time and, yes, there’s a lot of banter! What people don’t realise about Marty is that he’s a real softie. I feel lucky that I’m the one who gets to see that.”

Michelle loves that the Highlanders star “wears his heart on his sleeve”.

For his part, Marty loves Michelle’s persistence.

He explains, “No one ever stuck around and put up with me like she did! She made it last. We had a little period there when I was overseas and it was tough. It could have gone either way, really. But Michelle got us through a lot of that. She’s got a heart of gold. She makes me the happiest I’ve ever been – and she’s even started playing golf!”

Marty is also full of admiration for how Michelle deals with her alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss, and uses her high-profile job to help others who have it.

He says, “She did a story with Woman’s Day about it and it was a really big deal at the time, but she’s never let it define her. It was a pretty cool thing for her to do and it was amazing seeing her do that. When I first found out she had alopecia, I didn’t know what to say, really. I was more worried about myself going bald!”

Laughing, he continues, “Finding out she was bald? I mean, I didn’t care. She has won the race there. Hopefully, I can hold on to mine!”

“Getting married on a rugby field is not happening,” says Michelle.

Now the couple is turning their attention to planning the wedding and first up is trying to find a location.

While Marty has suggested Nelson’s Trafalgar Park – the home of the Tasman Mako rugby team and “a great bit of grass” – this idea has been firmly vetoed by Michelle.

She grins, “Getting married on a rugby field is not happening!”

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