Rugby: Can Sonny Bill Williams and the Blues lure Liam Messam away from Chiefs?

Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams are close friends. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams are close friends. Photo / Brett Phibbs

They've already enticed one All Black up State Highway 1, can the Blues repeat the feat and lure Liam Messam away from the Chiefs?

This week's signing of Sonny Bill Williams was the first real statement of intent that Tana Umaga's team can now attract the highest calibre of player and Messam, off contract this year, certainly fits that bill.

The Rugby World Cup winner and two-time Super Rugby champion is 32 but believes he still has "a few good years left" in New Zealand rugby, having been reinvigorated while spending this season in the sevens set-up.

Once those commitments come to an end, Messam will be looking for his next challenge. And while tempting the loose forward away from the Chiefs will be difficult, Messam is impressed with what he's seen on the other side of the Bombays.

"They're building a great environment and culture up there and I've only heard great things about what Tana has done," Messam told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.

"He's a great man and has great respect just with his name."

Messam counts Williams among his closest friends, having spent significant time together in Super Rugby, sevens and the All Blacks environments. Another opportunity to link with the new Blues second-five would undoubtedly be part of the franchise's pitch to Messam, with Umaga earlier in the week suggesting his recruitment drive was ongoing.

That much was confirmed by chief executive Michael Redman, who was buoyed by Messam's assessment of the Blues and said those sort of comments were a sign of the esteem in which Umaga's side now are held among top players.

"Our goal is to fill our squad with players from this region or with a connection to this region, but we also know there's still a couple of positions where we need to fill some gaps," Redman told Newstalk ZB. "To have that sort of reaction from a player so immediately gives us great confidence that we're in a strong position to attract those sorts of players."

Still, Messam and the Blues appear an unlikely marriage. Not only would he be competing with Jerome Kaino and Akira Ioane for a starting spot in the loose forwards but Messam still retained a strong connection with the Chiefs.

Having played a record 144 times for the franchise since making his debut in 2006, Messam was co-captain in the Chiefs' two title wins and enjoyed a strong relationship with coach Dave Rennie. Although Taleni Seu has impressed in his maiden Super Rugby campaign, the Chiefs' No 6 jersey seems a much more attainable target if Messam wishes to continue starting at the highest level and, perhaps, add to his 43 All Blacks caps.

"The sevens has really given me that extra kick in life," Messam said. "When I went into the sevens, I was hoping it would give me a few more years for my body, and it has done that. It's pushed my body to the absolute limit and I'm feeling really good and strong.

"So I still feel like I can give my body more to New Zealand rugby and that's all I've wanted to do in my career - give everything I had here in New Zealand before I went overseas. Hopefully I can get a few more years out of this carcass."

- NZME.

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