TJ Perenara's return to the All Blacks headlines the Rugby Championship squad and impressive rookie Ethan de Groot missing the cut highlights New Zealand's front-row depth.
The other element is the welcome shot in the arm the Bunnings NPC will receive with at least four All Blacks to be injected through the early rounds of the competition that starts on August 6.
In naming his 36-man Rugby Championship squad on Monday, All Blacks coach Ian Foster largely continued with the same group that banked three victories over Tonga and Fiji this month.
The additions come in the form of Blues prop Ofa Tuungafasi returning from his minor knee surgery. While Tuungafasi is immediately available for selection, Foster indicated Perenara, Crusaders prop Joe Moody, centre Braydon Ennor and Hurricanes hooker Asafo Aumua would all spend time with their respective NPC sides before rejoining the All Blacks after the opening Bledisloe Cup test on August 7.
"The chance to take some players back through the NPC in those early couple of rounds is going to be really important for us," Foster said. "Later on, once we get into the four tests in a row, we'll still be looking to drop some players back to ensure they're game ready when needed."
Welcoming Perenara, the 69-test veteran, back into the squad was always the plan. Blues halfback Finlay Christie will remain with the All Blacks for the first Bledisloe while Perenara continues his return with Wellington.
"He's an experienced international nine for us. He went to Japan for a reason and we gave him a clear work-on there in terms of the speed to the ball and to make sure that part of his game was tracking well," Foster said.
"We were pretty pleased with what we saw over there. While contractually we couldn't pick him in July it gave us a great opportunity to bring Finlay in and we're really delighted with him and that's going to give us the confidence to use Wellington and the Bunnings NPC to bring TJ back up to speed."
With senior looseheads Tuungafasi and Moody returning Foster singled out 22-year-old Highlanders and Southland prop de Groot - already developing something of a cult following - as the unluckiest member to miss the cut.
Crusaders prop George Bower, having impressed against Fiji, will stay with the All Blacks until Moody proves his fitness following foot surgery.
"Joe Moody isn't in line for a final clearance to get back into the heavy stuff until the end of this month which means his reintroduction will definitely be through Canterbury. That enables us to keep George Bower. I would imagine Moods will probably need two or three rounds of NPC but we'll have to wait and see on the medical report.
"Ethan de Groot is unlucky to miss out. He was very impressive as a young prop [and] we're delighted with his progress and I was really happy with his game on Saturday. Whilst he's missed out on this particular squad, we certainly believe there's going to be ample opportunity for him later this year."
Despite his eye-catching, two-try debut off the bench in Hamilton last Saturday, Chiefs hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho did not do enough just yet to usurp Aumua.
Taukei'aho will, however, remain with the All Blacks while Aumua plays for Wellington in his return from the concussion he suffered in the opening test against Tonga.
"We were delighted with Samisoni at the weekend, how could you not be? But at the end of the day it wasn't Asafo's fault he was injured and couldn't play. We feel he warrants a chance. He needs a bit of game time as he's had some time off so while he'll come into camp, he's another guy we're keen to play in round one of NPC to get his timing back before we bring him back in."
Ennor was named in the All Blacks original 36-man squad but did not feature after undergoing emergency appendicitis surgery. He, too, will play several games for Canterbury before stepping up to the test arena.
"He's been running and training reasonably well. He starts his return to rugby next Monday. We'll use up to the first three rounds with Canterbury because he had a late introduction to Super Rugby with his knee injury the year before and only played five games before coming to us and then he had his appendicitis so we think the right thing to do is spend some time with us but then go back to Canterbury and get some minutes under his belt."
The All Blacks assemble for a camp in Christchurch next week when preparations for a Bledisloe with a very different backdrop to last year will begin. Last year the All Blacks and Wallabies drew their first test in Wellington in October after spending much of the year in limbo due to Covid-19 lockdowns and border closures.
"Both teams will be miles ahead in their preparation in terms of where they were last year. This year has felt more normal, but we can't make too many assumptions. It's still a volatile world out there so we're looking forward to playing the next one.
"We know we've got some big challenges ahead but we're excited by it. With four tests in a row in September and likely five in a row on an end-of-year tour it's meant we really do need everyone contributing."
Asafo Aumua (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 2)
Dane Coles (34, Hurricanes / Wellington, 76)
Codie Taylor (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 58)
Nepo Laulala (29, Blues / Counties Manukau, 31)
Tyrel Lomax (25, Hurricanes / Tasman, 8)
Joe Moody (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 50)
Angus Ta'avao (31, Chiefs / Auckland, 16)
Karl Tu'inukuafe (28, Blues / North Harbour, 18)
Ofa Tuungafasi (29, Blues / Auckland, 39)
Scott Barrett (27, Crusaders / Taranaki, 42)
Brodie Retallick (30, Chiefs / Hawke's Bay, 83)
Patrick Tuipulotu (28, Blues / Auckland, 38)
Tupou Vaa'i (21, Chiefs / Taranaki, 4)
Samuel Whitelock (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 125) – captain
Ethan Blackadder (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 2)
Shannon Frizell (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 14)
Akira Ioane (26, Blues / Auckland, 4)
Luke Jacobson (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 5)
Dalton Papalii (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 5)
Ardie Savea (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 50)
Hoskins Sotutu (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 6)
TJ Perenara (29, Hurricanes / Wellington, 69)
Aaron Smith (32, Highlanders / Manawatu, 99)
Brad Weber (30, Chiefs / Hawke's Bay, 9)
Beauden Barrett (30, Blues / Taranaki, 91)
Richie Mo'unga (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 24)
Braydon Ennor (23, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
David Havili (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 5)
Rieko Ioane (24, Blues / Auckland, 37)
Anton Lienert-Brown (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 50)
Quinn Tupaea (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
Jordie Barrett (24, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 25)
George Bridge (26, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12)
Will Jordan (22, Crusaders / Tasman, 5)
Damian McKenzie (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 30)
Sevu Reece (23, Crusaders / Tasman, 10)