Blue Jackson Willison now heading abroad too

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014
Jackson Willison stndrd
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HEADING OFFSHORE: Jackson Willison has signed with Grenoble in France.

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Say au revoir to another valued servant of New Zealand rugby.

Jackson Willison is the latest player to ink a lucrative contract with an overseas club, signing a two-year deal with Top 14 French club Grenoble.

The New Zealand Maori, Blues midfielder and Waikato captain's decision to head offshore comes hard on the heels of former All Black Zac Guildford's pending departure and former Counties Manukau captain Fritz Lee re-signing with Clermont.

Like Guildford, Willison jets off straight after this year's Super Rugby campaign with the Blues, leaving Waikato searching for a new leader this season.

The 25-year-old's move highlights the New Zealand Rugby Union's challenge of retaining its second-tier players. Those that sit bellow the All Blacks can't command the same salaries but are, nonetheless, respected figures and crucial mentors to the next generation.

"Personally probably not," Willison told the Sunday Star-Times when asked if anything more could have been done to keep him in New Zealand. "It will be a continued trend in the next couple of months, if not the next two years. We may see a few more players heading overseas with the World Cup looming. People will leave the country for their own reasons. Some of them are identical.

"I'm not the first player and won't be the last. It was exciting for both my partner and myself when we sat down and looked at the deal. We're both looking forward to doing a bit of travel. It was quite an easy decision in the end. My time in New Zealand is nearly up."

The financial windfall was a key factor in Willison's exit, as was the chance to continue playing in a competitive arena.

"It's not a huge amount but we can definitely feel safe and come back and set ourselves up, he said.

"It presents a new challenge. The mates I've talked to said the rugby in Europe is still of high quality. I wasn't looking to head to Japan and just get the financial benefit. I want to keep playing decent rugby and Grenoble have given me that opportunity.

"Leaving Waikato will be tough. I felt like I was just coming into my own as captain last year," he saidWillison, who has played 60 games for Waikato, will link up with former New Zealand sevens gold medallist Nigel Hunt and former Wallabies lock Peter Kimlin and prop Dan Palmer at Grenoble, where he will push for a starting spot in the midfield.

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