Stand-in captain Sam Whitelock has jokingly revealed a dressing room "scrap" on the eve of the All Blacks' first test of the year - with some players at odds over who gets to sit where in the Mt Smart Stadium lockers.
The All Blacks face a depleted Tonga at the home of the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday - the first time a rugby test will be played at the ground. The match, scheduled for 7.05pm, follows the Māori All Blacks facing Manu Samoa from 4.30pm.
Whitelock will captain the side for the sixth time in his 122-test career in the absence of injured Sam Cane.
He told media some of his teammates couldn't wait to claim the lockers of Warriors stalwarts like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Tohu Harris.
The Warriors, who have spent the last two seasons based in Australia due to Covid-19, will return to Mt Smart for the first time in more than 700 days when they face the Canterbury Bulldogs on August 15.
"It's pretty cool. We were in the home shed today and the boys were definitely jumping in the lockers of their favourite players," Whitelock said.
"There were a couple of boys who were scrapping over a couple of positions. I'll let them say who they got... it was quite funny in there [with] some of the older boys saying 'Nah, I'm pulling rank and pushing you out of that seat'.
"It's quite cool seeing the boys enjoying the stadium and the occasion. I must admit I'm not a massive league fan so I thought I'd jump in the empty one with no name. I'll go in there as the tall white battler... my body's not really set up for league, I would get snapped in half."
Whitelock leads a match-day squad with four rookies, including Quinn Tupaea who will debut at second five-eighth. Crusaders flanker Ethan Blackadder, prop George Bower and Blues halfback Finlay Christie have all been included on the bench.
The visitors, meanwhile, have named 13 debutants and will do well to avoid a similar drubbing to the 92-7 defeat suffered when the teams last met, shortly before the 2019 World Cup.
The All Blacks, however, aren't getting caught up in talk about the inexperience of their opposition, according to Whitelock.
"I've never played an easy test match and there's no such thing as an easy way into a campaign. No matter who you play, you always want to look at yourself first. We have some pretty big goals, as Fozzy [All Blacks head coach Ian Foster] has said... and this is our first opportunity to go out there and play as a team," he said.
"We don't know a lot about them, that's a good and a bad thing at the same time. Where we hold our standards and the way we want to play...it shouldn't matter who we play. That's what we need to look at first."
All Blacks v Tonga: Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Samuel Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Angus Ta'avao, Dane Coles, Karl Tu'inukuafe.
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, George Bower, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.