Damian McKenzie ready for biggest year of career

All Black Damian McKenzie may have his eye on the big prize at the end of the season, but he intends to hit the ground running for the Chiefs.

The playmaker is set for the biggest season of his life in 2019, when he looks to be a part of the World Cup squad. 

However, while there's plenty of attention on what might happen at the end of the season, there is a Super Rugby campaign to get through first.

While some All Blacks can already be locked in for their position in the first match of the World Cup, it's not so straight forward for McKenzie and he only started five of his 11 tests last year.

So McKenzie is looking to be in good form when he plays his first game for the Chiefs and builds from there.

"I guess you want to kick into things right from the get go,"  McKenzie said. 

"You might not be at your sharpest, but ideally if you can start nicely and maintain that throughout the year and keep improving each week that will be the ideal situation.

"The World Cup is around the corner and if I get in that squad, start peaking then and play some good footy, that would be great.

"The main goal of the year is to try to make that squad and it's a game at a time, particularly with myself at the Chiefs and then hope for something bigger later in the year."

The Invercargill born McKenzie says he's enjoyed his break after wrapping up 2018 with the 66-3 win over Italy in Rome.

"It's been good, I spent a few weeks down south with family and friends, the reality is slowly starting to kick in that we're getting back into the footy season.

"I've had a good break, but it's nice to be able to get back into things and start getting ready for a big year."

Last week Beauden Barrett told Stuff he's thinking about the World Cup every day and he's using the tournament as motivation to keep pushing himself at training.

But the 23-year-old Mckenzie says the scenario is different for him.

"For Beauden, he's been there before (at a World Cup). 

"It's obviously in the back of my mind, but for myself I try to take every day as it comes and try to play some good rugby through the year with the Chiefs and then hopefully things fall into place."

Reflecting on 2018, when he continued to evolve from a first-five to a fullback, McKenzie felt it was a good season for him and one he can look to build on for 2019.

"It was a big learning from myself during the year, from the Chiefs and the All Blacks and playing No 10 and 15," he said.
"I've been getting used to the things I need to get used to.

"I enjoyed the last part of our tour over in the UK, so it was an exciting year and I learnt to hopefully move forward this year."