By Liam Napier
Liam Messam has, officially, been bit by the boxing bug.
Not even a limited two-and-a-half week preparation could deter the in-form All Blacks loose-forward from signing up for a Fight for Life showdown with a Kangaroos star on December 14 in Auckland.
Messam will need to head straight from the airport to the boxing ring when he returns from the end of year tour.
The All Blacks final test is in Dublin on November 25. Just over two weeks later, Messam will square off in his second high-profile boxing bout, having taken care of former dual Australian international Wendell Sailor in the same event last year.
While on tour in London last year, hooker Hika Elliot attempted to juggle boxing training and All Black commitments. That's not a schedule Messam wants to subscribe to. He hasn't put on the gloves recently and doesn't plan to until after three tests against France, England and Ireland.
"Nah, I'll save it [boxing training] for when I get home," he said. "It is a juggling act. When I finish the end of year tour then I'll fully focus on that.
"I'll have about two-and-a-half weeks at home. I know it's a short preparation but I think the Kangaroo boys will be in the same boat. I'll fully focus on my rugby for now. After a test match you're pretty knackered to do anything else."
Messam's yet-to-be-announced opponent - he didn't want to fight a Kiwi league player as "those boys can hit" - will also have a tight turnaround.
The rugby league World Cup final is on December 1, just 13 days before the Fight for Life. It would be a major shock if the Kangaroos don't make the final.
Greg Bird and Paul Gallen both registered victories in last year's event and it would not surprise to see Messam paired against either enforcer.
Enjoying the best season of his All Blacks career, on the back of a standout performance at Ellis Park, Messam is keen to ensure he doesn't get complacent.
He's grown used to challenges and feels he's learnt to thrive in that pressure environment.
He fought long and hard to hold off Victor Vito and Adam Thomson at No 6 and is now in the midst of keeping Steven Luatua at bay. Then there's the imminent return of Jerome Kaino. Boxing is another mental test, one magnified by the unique individualism it requires, that Messam is keen to embrace.
"I've had a pretty successful year but this is a chance to test myself as an individual so I don't get too comfortable. It is a long year but it's more of a mental thing, I believe. I could probably train all year around. That's one side of footy I love. It's more mental stimulation for me; to test myself in something different. I've had challenges all through my career."
Messam has been in contact with Sonny Bill Williams and could spar with his former Chiefs team-mate in the build-up to the charity boxing event.
"Hopefully we can get together and train again soon."