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Damian McKenzie will be back in Chiefs colors next year following his stint in Japan.
All Blacks playmaker Damian McKenzie has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby through to the end of next year’s World Cup.
After leaving at the end of 2021 for a stint with Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath in the new Japan Rugby League One competition, the 27-year-old has re-committed to the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato through till the end of 2023.
McKenzie, who has played 40 tests for New Zealand since a debut in 2016, said he was excited about the prospect of playing on home soil again.
“I really enjoyed my time in Japan, but it’s great to be home among family and friends and I can’t wait to get back on the field and reconnect with team-mates and coaches in New Zealand,” he said in a statement on Friday.
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“I’m passionate about Waikato, the Chiefs and the All Blacks, and if I’m lucky enough to wear any of those jerseys again I’ll give it everything.”
McKenzie is sitting on 95 caps for the Chiefs, and after a year away from the side, will look to raise the century during next season’s Super Rugby Pacific competition.
“We welcome back Damo with arms wide open,” Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said.
“He’s not only a fan favorite but a highly respected team member who gives everything of himself on the field.
“I’m sure he enjoyed his time in Japan and will have developed his game further by nature of the different style they play up there.
“But it’s great to have him back, he’s a few games off becoming a Chiefs centurion and there’s no doubt he will help us take another step forward as a team next season.”
Before that, though, McKenzie’s focus will turn to playing for the Mooloos.
McKenzie wasn’t eligible for either the All Blacks or Māori All Blacks for next month’s matches against Ireland, and must play NPC first before he can be considered for a national side.
The NPC this year starts on the same weekend as the Rugby Championship – the first weekend of August.
“It’s been a few years since I pulled on the Waikato jersey, but that’s where it all started for me back in 2014, so it will be awesome to get back amongst it with the lads and represent my province if I’m selected,” he said.
All Blacks name six uncapped players, with halfbacks TJ Perenara and Brad Weber the high-profile omissions.
The star first five-eighth/fullback’s inclusion will be a real boon for the defending champions, and coach Ross Filipo.
“Damian is a drawcard player wherever he goes, and it will be great to see him back in Waikato colors and entertaining the Mooloo faithful,” he said. “He will bring leadership and experience to the Waikato squad and always represents our province with courage and pride.”
After a largely successful time of it in Japan – with Suntory finishing as runners-up – McKenzie will be looking to prove himself again ahead of next year’s World Cup in France, with Stephen Perofeta’s hot form for the Blues seeing him rewarded with an All Blacks call-up this week in his absence.
NZR general manager professional rugby and performance, Chris Lendrum, was delighted to have McKenzie – who could have commanded big money deals off-shore – back home.
“It’s a positive for rugby in New Zealand any time a player of Damian’s quality and experience returns to New Zealand, and he will add a lot to the teams he represents,” he said.
“He’s refreshed, he’s excited about playing for Waikato and the Chiefs, and he is as passionate as ever about pushing for higher honours, which is great.
“No doubt fans will be pleased to see him back on the field in whatever jersey he has on.”