Lelia Masaga confirms move to Japanese club

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 06:00 26/03/2013
Lelia Masaga
GETTY

MAKING A MOVE: Lelia Masaga has signed a contract with the Honda club.

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Chiefs winger Lelia Masaga has become the third player from this year's team to announce he is heading offshore at the end of the season.

Masaga, 26, will join team-mate Richard Kahui in Japan where he will play for the Honda club, having signed for two seasons.

A one-test All Black and former Junior All Black, he is in his eighth season with the Chiefs having first been signed as a 19-year-old out of the Counties Manukau provincial union.

He has subsequently transferred to Bay of Plenty.

Wellington-born Masaga's move to head overseas follows similar announcements earlier in the season by both Kahui and Chiefs co-captain Craig Clarke, the latter to head to Galway in Ireland to play for Connacht under the coaching of former Blues mentor Pat Lam on a three-year contract.

That follows the departure overseas at the end of last season of Sonny Bill Williams, Sona Taumalolo and Kane Thompson from the 2012 championship-winning Chiefs side.

There have been rumours circulating for some time that a third Chiefs player had signed this year with an overseas club and Masaga's announcement confirms he is that player.

The quicksilver winger with the dancing feet, who is nicknamed Flash for his ability to score tries with dazzling footwork and also his post-try celebration dances, has scored 30 tries for the Chiefs.

Three of those came last weekend when he burst back into form with a hat-trick of touchdowns against the Southern Kings in the South African city of Port Elizabeth.

A veteran of 80 games for the Chiefs, Masaga said it had been a tough decision to make to choose to leave his Super Rugby franchise and head overseas.

"The Chiefs have been an important part of my life for eight years, but this was just simply an opportunity that was too good to turn down," Masaga said.

Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said news of Masaga's looming departure was a blow for the franchise but understandable for a player looking to secure his family's future. Masaga married his wife Nikki in January.

"Lelia is a highly valued part of the Chiefs family, but at his stage of his career this is a fantastic chance for Lelia and his family and we wish them well," Rennie said.

The top try scorer for New Zealand at the 2006 under-21 world cup in France, Masaga was one of the leading try scorers in the 2007 Super 14 and was included in the All Blacks squad for the 2009 June domestic series to cover for injuries, earning his first test cap against Italy.

Masaga's contract with Honda kicks in once the Super Rugby season is over and he will not be available for ITM Cup this year for Bay of Plenty.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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