Damian McKenzie focused on starring for Waikato after All Blacks disappointment
Damian McKenzie couldn't hide his disappointment at missing the final cut for the All Blacks.
The Chiefs playmaker had an outstanding season in Super Rugby, but was omitted from Steve Hansen's squad for the Rugby Championship.
McKenzie has been in camp with the All Blacks ahead of this weekend's Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney, and he played in the hit-out against Northland and Counties Manukau last Friday night.
But now the 21-year-old is back with Waikato ahead of the National Provincial Championship, with the Mooloo men's campaign kicking off against Tasman in Blenheim on Sunday.
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After earning his first call-up to the All Blacks for the June international test series with Wales, although he never made it onto the paddock, McKenzie still hopes to get the chance to make his international debut this season.
"It's always disappointing not getting named [in the All Blacks]," said McKenzie.
"I'm just really looking forward to coming back for Waikato and trying to put my best foot forward there and see what comes later this year."
McKenzie wants to bring what he's learned from his brief time with the All Blacks into his game for Waikato, who've not made the semifinals of the NPC since 2011.
"I'm really proud to be playing for this province. I just want to improve each week as a player on the field and enjoy my time with this team," he said.
"It was good to be in camp with the All Blacks for a couple of days. I've learned a fair bit, which hopefully I can bring back here. I'm really excited with the squad we've got this year.
"You learn a lot pretty quickly with the high calibre of players there, and the coaches they've got as well."
The Mooloo men pinched the Ranfurly Shield from Hawke's Bay in the final round of last year's fixtures, with a 36-30 victory in Napier.
McKenzie played alongside Chiefs team-mate Brad Weber in the halves in that clash in October, but the diminutive halfback has switched to the Magpies for 2016.
And after excelling at fullback for the Chiefs, with Aaron Cruden at first-five eighth, McKenzie is expected to switch back to the 10 jersey in the NPC.
When asked what his preferred role would be in Waikato's starting XV, he said: "Ideally at first-five, yes.
"But I'll do whatever the team needs me to and whatever best suits on the day."
Waikato will also have experienced first fives Stephen Donald and Sam Christie in this year's squad.
Christie is back after three years away, which included spells with the Western Force and Italian club Benetton Treviso.
Donald was named as Waikato's captain for 2016, after his return last year from stints in England and Japan with Bath and Mitsubishi Dynaboars.
McKenzie said he was lucky to have such experienced players around him, with 36-year-old halfback Isaac Boss also back in town after 11 years in Ireland.
Boss and McKenzie could start in the halves in Waikato's NPC opener this weekend.
"We've had a young team the last few years and we've been lucky to get more experience which is good, with the guys from Waikato coming back," said McKenzie.
"We just need consistency each week and playing some really good footy would be the main goal."