When Liam Messam heard his close friend Sione Lauaki passed away before the start of the Brisbane Tens rugby tournament in 2017, the Chiefs forward was going to return to New Zealand.

It was the day of the finals, and the Chiefs had qualified for a spot in the knockout stages.

Instead of flying home, he got a feeling his friend would have wanted him to play, and used that feeling to propel his side to the title.

"Losing Sione was probably one of my first times I've really lost a close friend," Messam said.

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"It was a pretty miserable tournament, for a few of the other lads as well."

Sione Lauaki played 70 matches for the Chiefs. Photo / NZPA
Sione Lauaki played 70 matches for the Chiefs. Photo / NZPA

Lauaki, who played 17 tests for the All Blacks and made 70 appearances for the Chiefs, passed away on February 12, 2017 due to renal failure.

The team bonded together and set out to win the title in Lauaki's memory. It was an action that Messam said blew him away.

Messam played five seasons alongside Lauaki in the Chiefs' pack, forming a strong loose-forward pairing.

"Those guys that never knew Sione – never met him before – but they were willing to do whatever it took to make sure that trophy came home."

The side qualified for the final – booking a date with the Crusaders, and after a testing period, the Chiefs came away with a 12-7 victory.

"When it came to the final whistle I was exhausted because it was such an emotional day…it was pretty mixed emotions.

"I took (my medal) to his grave when I went to go visit him. I know that he was with us that day."

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Now, almost a year on, Messam will again lead the Chiefs into the tournament, looking to defend their title. Though for Messam, the tournament will alway hold a much deeper meaning than simply winning a trophy.

"Every time it gets to this tournament…I'm always going to have him in the back of my head."

The 2018 tournament is set to run from February 9-10 at Suncorp Stadium.