Born: 8 October, 1971 – Wellington
Test record: 5 Tests (1996) – 1 try (4 points)
An extremely versatile and charismatic former All Black, Marc Ellis had a brief but eventful flirtation with rugby league and became a dual international in 1996.
Originally from Wellington, Ellis was a proud Otago rep and was chosen for the New Zealand Colts in 1991 before earning an All Blacks call-up for the 1992 tour of Australia and South Africa. Able to cover any position in the backline, Ellis was a surprise choice to make his Test debut at first five-eighth against Scotland but marked the occasion with two tries. It was on this tour of Britain that St Helens coach Mike McLennan predicted Ellis would make a fine league player. Injury ravaged his 1994 season but after making the squad for the 1995 World Cup, Ellis scored a New Zealand Test record six tries from centre in a pool match against Japan.
The eight-Test All Black signed with Auckland Warriors at the end of 1995. He made an immediate impact, scoring a length-of-the-field try with his first touch of the ball in the new code, a pre-season trial against Cronulla, before winning selection for New Zealand’s victorious World Nines squad for the tournament in Fiji early in 1996.
Making his first-grade debut in the Warriors’ first match of the season against Illawarra at fullback, Ellis had a successful initial season with the Warriors. He was shuffled around the backline throughout the year and provided a solid back-up goalkicking option, finishing with six tries in 18 games.
Ellis was rewarded with a bench spot for New Zealand’s two-Test series with Papua New Guinea at the end of 1996, scoring a try in the second encounter. The 25-year-old held his spot for the following first two Tests against Great Britain and started on the wing in the third as the Kiwis completed an impressive 3-0 cleansweep.
The flamboyant, fleet-footed utility featured as New Zealand again won the World Nines in 1997, booting two goals in the final against Western Samoa. Ellis was his club’s top pointscorer in the Warriors’ disappointing 1997 season with 71 but could not muscle his way into the Kiwis’ squad for the Tests against Super League Australia. He did, however, come off the bench in both of New Zealand Super League Tri-Series team’s matches against Queensland and NSW.
Ellis possessed natural flair and a penchant for the unpredictable with the ball, which suited the Warriors’ trademark style – but like his club, he often lacked consistency. After starting the 1998 NRL season in first grade, Ellis was released midyear from the remaining two and a half years of his lucrative contract, returning to the rugby union fold with North Harbour. He later played for Auckland and Otago at Super 12 level and for New Zealand A against the All Blacks, before retiring at the end of 2000. The archetypal likable Kiwi larrikin, Ellis enjoyed celebrity status in New Zealand and starred in several comedy-based sports shows during and after his career as an athlete.
Ellis was the 36th player to represent New Zealand in rugby union and rugby league – and, to date, the last to earn Kiwis selection after being an All Black.