Marty McKenzie finds his place with Taranaki
There will be plenty of fans at Yarrow Stadium tonight hoping Marty McKenzie makes a good fist of things at first five-eighth.
With four players - Beaudein Waaka, Daniel Brooks, Rick McKenna and Frazier Climo - being tried in the position last year, there is a general wish for some stability.
Time will tell if McKenzie can establish himself in the No 10 jersey but the signs are positive.
The former Southland, Blues and New Zealand Sevens rep was positive in his play against Hawke's Bay in Taranaki's first pre-season hit-out, struggled a bit against Waikato, before he was largely impressive against Auckland seven days ago.
He has an incredibly high aerobic base, a progressive kicking game and an attitude which belies his slight frame.
He also has confidence - a desperately needed asset for a playmaker.
The 22-year-old, who celebrates his birthday today, will be one of five players making their Taranaki debuts against Counties Manukau tonight.
"I just wanted a new challenge and a bit of a change, a fresh start, that was the main thing," McKenzie said about his transfer to Taranaki.
After initially signing with the Blues for two years in 2013, McKenzie had to make way after a solitary season after the Auckland franchise chased and caught Benji Marshall.
"It felt a bit different at the time, I'd never experienced anything like that but I had a lot of good people around me giving me good advice."
With no Super Rugby contract, the former New Zealand Under-20 rep had a crack at the national sevens teams, playing in several international tournaments before coach Gordon Tietjens looked elsewhere.
His introduction to Taranaki club rugby came via Clifton where he made a solid impact before a rib injury kept him on the sidelines for an extended period.
Despite the frequency of change in his position last season, McKenzie arrived in his new province with a firm view he was being asked to fill the No 10 jersey.
"That was the main focus when Coops [coach Colin Cooper] and I sat down and talked about me coming here. I wanted to focus on that, while also having the ability to play [No] 15."
McKenzie's main aim over the next 10 weeks is to help Taranaki to put in "solid" performances "week-in and week-out" while contributing plenty personally.
"I think we have enough ability here, enough experience to really be a force in the premiership and I think everything at the moment is going quite well."
He was pleased with the "tidy combination" he was developing with halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and co-captain James Marshall - hardly the biggest nine, 10, 12 axis but one McKenzie believed was skilful, inventive and fast enough to cause problems for opposition.
Taranaki Daily News