McKenzie happy with utility role for Stags
Promising fullback Marty McKenzie hopes a strong campaign with the Stags this year will provide a springboard into a Super Rugby contract.
The 19-year-old was one of the stars of the New Zealand under 20 team's unsuccessful defence of the world junior championship crown in South Africa last month, the only fullback selected for the squad after good trial form for Rob Penney's team.
Since shifting back to his home province after attending Christ's College in Christchurch, McKenzie has bulked up from 75kg to 85kg and given Stags head coach David Henderson a welcome headache over how he will fit a talented group of young players, including McKenzie, fellow New Zealand under-20 representative Scott Eade and Chiefs custodian Robbie Robinson into the same backline.
McKenzie has designs on the No15 jersey, but knows he will have a job levering Robinson out of the position he dominated for the Stags last season.
"I think Robbie would have something to say about that," McKenzie said. "I'm happy to play wherever the team needs me. I'll play wherever [Henderson] needs me to play, really."
McKenzie's second position would probably be at first-five, but he also sees opportunities on the wing.
"Either 10 or on the wing because the wing is very similar to fullback these days, you have to have the same skills," he said.
"I think it would be easier to fill in there."
While some have suggested McKenzie's versatility could allow him to play at second-five, it's not his favourite option.
"I'd probably need to put on a bit of weight to play there," he said.
"Cardiff Vaega is playing pretty well in club rugby. Between him and Matt Saunders they'll be running that position this year and I'm just happy to fill in where I'm needed."
Stags coach Henderson is keen to have his best players on the paddock, regardless of what number is on their back.
"If they are willing to be flexible I may look at playing them in different positions. It will depend on injuries too," Henderson said.
"We've got a young player that's developing and has played for New Zealand under-20 and another player who is playing Super 15 and going pretty well, too, so it's a matter of satisfying the team's needs and then [the players'] needs."
Eade's ability to also play halfback was something which could also be explored, Henderson said.
"I guess our focus came from that game against Auckland where he had a dab from halfback and scored that try in the corner where he beat all the cover defence.
"Again, it's going to be difficult for anyone with halfback aspirations because we weren't aware we would have Jimmy (Cowan) back then."
McKenzie played three games off the bench in his first season for Southland last year, making his debut as a wing replacement in the memorable Ranfurly Shield defence against North Harbour.
While the Stags season ended on a disappointing note with demotion to the championship, the unveiling of young players like McKenzie, Eade, Michael Fatialofa and Vaega provided a positive.
Running out in the maroon jersey, especially in a game as important as a Shield defence against Harbour, had been a thrill, McKenzie said.
"It was a pretty cool experience to win on the final hooter," he said. "I think with one year under our belts, we'll come in with a little bit more experience and a little bit more physically grown, so hopefully it bodes well for a good season."
The Stags begin their 2012 NPC campaign against Counties Manukau on August 26.
- The Southland Times