Liam Squire hasn't ruled out an All Blacks return as he gets set to make his Super Rugby comeback with the Highlanders.
The former All Blacks loose forward has signed with the Highlanders for next year's Super Rugby Aotearoa after returning early from Japan's DoCoMo Red Hurricanes.
When asked whether eyeing a spot in the All Blacks was on his agenda, Squire said the dream was "definitely not over".
"It's something that does burn in the back of my mind," Squire said. "But for me, I sort of don't look too far ahead. Making the Highlanders squad is the number one priority. They've got a lot of depth in the loose forwards so it's going to be exciting and challenging in that aspect."
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Squire left the Highlanders after the 2019 season having played 33 games for the franchise in four seasons. He only played three games for them in the 2019 season due to injuries and then making himself unavailable. He also made himself unavailable for the All Blacks last year.
During an extended pandemic-enforced break, the 29-year-old had knee and hip surgery to tackle his chronic injuries - which he said first triggered thoughts of returning to rugby.
"After getting that hip surgery and probably a couple of other little things I felt like I still had a bit left here in New Zealand and staying home and playing Super Rugby again was exciting. I sort of feel refreshed again like I've got my second wind," he said.
"This year's been quite tough but it's also given me a chance to get all those injuries taken care of. I haven't had the chance to get a good pre-season done where I've focused on what I need to strengthen so I'm heading in the right direction, not 100 per cent yet but we're definitely building so I think come Super Rugby I'll be hitting my strides.
"I've got high standards of where I want to get to coming back."
Meanwhile, there are six new faces and two returning players among the Highlanders squad. The squad features 22 forwards and 17 backs and will again be co-captained by Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith.
Exciting Japanese World Cup player Kazuki Himeno will join Squire in the loose forwards along with former Crusader Billy Harmon and James Lentjes returning from injury after missing Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020.