Tanerau Latimer and Liam Messam played rugby together as teenagers and nearly 15 years later Latimer will on Friday join his good mate in having played 100 Super Rugby appearances.
While Messam has played exclusively for the Chiefs, Latimer played his first five games as a 19-year-old for the Crusaders before joining the Chiefs.
But the two loose forwards, who both played sevens for New Zealand and have both played for the All Blacks, made their Super Rugby debuts eight seasons ago and both Messam and Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie are adamant Latimer personifies what the Chiefs are all about.
"He means a lot to us," said Messam. "He's pretty much the heart and soul of the team and he puts his body on the line week-in, week-out and you know exactly what you're going to get from him.
"He's not into the flashy things but he does all the hard grind, all that tough stuff they're looking for in a leader like Lats."
The fact it was going to be Latimer's 100th Super Rugby game against the Stormers on Friday sneaked up on Messam, who hit the century mark last season, but the team are sure to celebrate both that and then in five games' time when Latimer brings up his 100th game for the Chiefs.
"We're close mates. We started playing together when we were 16 back in the Bay of Plenty so to go through what we've gone through together is awesome," Messam said.
Rennie is effusive in his praise of Latimer and what he brings to the Chiefs.
"For anyone who knows him he is a terrific man," Rennie said.
"He's very proud of the jersey and he plays like it every time. He's just incredibly persistent, very passionate about this team, a very strong leader prepared to challenge others and be demanding.
"It's neat that he will have played 100 and obviously we'll probably celebrate a little harder when he's played a hundred for the Chiefs, which is in five more games, but it's a hell of a feat for him and hopefully we get a big crowd along to cheer him on."
For Latimer, who had played for the New Zealand Sevens team as a 17-year-old, both feats will be special and he remembers fondly both his first start for the Crusaders against the Bulls in 2006 after his debut off the bench against the Force two games earlier and his first game for the Chiefs a year later.
"I think we were under a bit of pressure to win that game and we did so that's still a vivid memory for me," Latimer said of the Bulls match.
"Richie [McCaw] got injured in Perth and I was the next cab off the rank along with Johnny Leo'o."
Latimer said what made his time at the Chiefs special was the number of players who had been alongside him all the way through, especially his mate Messam.
"I was there for his 100th Super game and it was special so it will be very pleasing to get it myself."
Latimer said he had enjoyed the from Waikato Stadium as new training base at Ruakura, which had been "quite influential".
"You get out here and it's something different. We're not at the stadium the whole time so it doesn't feel like a chore and the stadium is a special place for us and going back there just for the games is a big thing for us."
Latimer said he was calmer in the way he approached games compared to the early days.
"I've been quite fortunate that no major injuries have occurred with me - I think the concussion back in 2011 was the longest I've been out.
"We train a lot more but I do have to look after my body differently these days, especially with tendon problems, you've just got to watch your load but you do alternative stuff which is off-your-feet.
"When you are young you think you can do everything, but then the body catches up with you and says 'hey, time to pull back a little bit'," he said.
- Waikato Times
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