REPORT: All Blacks lose another playmaker to Japan
TRANSFER TALK: All Blacks and Chiefs star Damian McKenzie has reportedly signed a deal with Japanese club Tokyo Sungoliath that will see him miss the 2022 Super Rugby season.
According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, McKenzie, who is coming off-contract with New Zealand Rugby [NZR] at the end of this year, has signed a five-month deal with the 2021 Top League runners-up.
The reported deal will see McKenzie link up with the Japanese juggernauts, who have re-branded from the Suntory Sungoliath as part of the revamped Japan Rugby League One competition, after the All Blacks’ end-of-year tour.
In doing so, the 26-year-old joins a growing contingent of foreign stars set to play in the new, fully professional club competition in Japan next year.
Among the many new signings for the inaugural Japan Rugby League One season includes controversial former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau and McKenzie’s All Blacks teammate Patrick Tuipulotu.
McKenzie’s salary at Tokyo Sungoliath remains unknown, but the club have been known to splash the cash in recent times after they paid All Blacks star Beauden Barrett a reported $1.5 million for his sabbatical deal this year.
Barrett proved to be a pivotal figure for the Sungoliath in their run to the Top League final, where they fell short against the Panasonic Wild Knights, coached by ex-Wallabies and Crusaders boss Robbie Deans, in a 26-31 defeat three months ago.
As a playmaker of similar stature to Barrett who is also capable of playing first-five and fullback, McKenzie looms as a like-for-like replacement for the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year.
The Herald reports that, at this stage, McKenzie is yet to sign a contract with NZR that will see him return to New Zealand following his spell in Japan.
It is reportedly for that reason that an official announcement is yet to be made by any of the involved parties.
A new contract with NZR could also open the door for McKenzie to change of Super Rugby franchises beyond 2022, although the Chiefs would remain frontrunners to keep their star man on their books.
In addition to his 95 appearances for the Waikato franchise, McKenzie also owns a house in Hamilton, but a deal is still yet to be reached about a return to the Chiefs.
McKenzie has played 31 tests for the All Blacks since 2016 and will start at fullback for New Zealand in their second Bledisloe Cup clash against the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland this Saturday.