Opinion: Damian McKenzie should leave NZ rugby to cash in overseas

Damian McKenzie
Damian McKenzie in action against the Stormers Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: The emergence of reports last week that Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie was in "advanced talks" with English top tier side Leicester should come as no real surprise.

The 22-year-old has been one of the Chiefs' standout players in 2017, slotting in at first receiver when required and igniting the backline on their way to the Super Rugby semis.

However, considering the way in which the All Blacks pecking order has become clear, McKenzie would be mad to turn down a big money overseas deal in order to grind away for a Super Rugby franchise whose direction also seems largely in the air.

Talismanic coach Dave Rennie is set to take on a new challenge with Glasgow in Europe's Pro14 competition, but his successor Colin Cooper is hardly an encouraging substitute having been starved of success in recent years.

The entire Chiefs backline will also look different post 2017, with first choice players Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Toulon), Aaron Cruden (Montpellier) and James Lowe (Leinster) all taking up big money contracts with northern clubs.

While the departure of the crux of a team and the arrival of a new coach can mean opportunity, it will also mean uncertainty - both in the type of rugby the team will play as well as their ability to maintain their status as one of New Zealand's top three franchises.

Aaron Cruden James Lowe
Aaron Cruden, James Lowe and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are heading overseas at season's end. Photo credit: Getty

McKenzie is contracted until the end of the 2018 Super Rugby season, but the fact he could be moved into first five under Cooper could further damage his claim for an All Blacks' berth in 2018 and for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Registering two indifferent performances for the All Blacks during last year's Rugby Championship and the end of season tour, McKenzie's seemed to be cast adrift by selectors in 2017.

While first-fives Lima Sopoaga and Richie Mo'unga are both waiting in the wings to fill Cruden's vacant position, the only path into the All Blacks backline for McKenzie seems to be injuries.

Even then, his chances seem faint as showed in the recent Lions tour with selectors favouring prodigies Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane.

Should McKenzie leave, there is still a glimmer of light for his future All Blacks hopes.

The fact he is 22 means he could go away on a three-year-deal, earn oodles of money before coming home to New Zealand in attempt to reignite his All Blacks chances.

However, as the likes of Tom Taylor have found since they've left for greener pastures, New Zealand rugby waits for no man, no matter how good you are.

And whilst he's an exceptional talent, McKenzie is no different.

Matt Tewhatu is a digital producer for Newshub.