Damian McKenzie is back in Hamilton and ready to begin what will be an important season, but like always, he will do it with a smile.
After a short holiday with friends and family, McKenzie has begun his second season in Super Rugby at the Chiefs, and his game has already come on leaps and bounds.
For McKenzie himself, you get the feeling that it will never be about what other people say, but more about what the he believes.
McKenzie believes in himself – and that is his greatest asset.
In many ways, McKenzie is the exact opposite of what you’d imagine.
Quietly enthusiastic, good looking, and a freakishly good skill set that could be world-class, McKenzie has all the makings to be one of the most exciting rugby players of this generation.
Last year, McKenzie was the apprentice, but some would say that in 2016 he is ready to go to the next level.
But McKenzie can only reach that level if given a long-term chance.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie says that McKenzie is ready to kick on after an impressive ending to 2015 but hasn’t hinted at the possibility of being first starter on game day.
“If you look at Damian, he learnt a hell of a lot from last season, continued that form on in ITM Cup, and we hope he will step up even further,” Rennie said.
Some would say that McKenzie is at risk of playing second fiddle to returning All Black first five Aaron Cruden throughout the Super Rugby season in 2016.
McKenzie’s ability to have an impact playing at fullback is clear, but many rugby critics remain sceptical.
Though McKenzie possesses surprising strength and blistering pace, qualities suited to a fullback, all evidence so far has shown that he has much more of an impact on a game when playing at first five.
McKenzie’s all round game was much improved during ITM Cup rugby with the Mooloos and all signs point to that trend continuing with the Chiefs.
The youngster wont have it easy in 2016 with two former All Blacks playing in his position, but like always, McKenzie will quietly go about his own game.
The shuffling and rotation of the first fives won’t continue in 2016 so McKenzie is in the best position to impress again.