Adam Blair made a habit of joining rare company during a long and decorated career. Just the second Northland product to represent New Zealand, in 2019 Blair became only the second player to bring up 50 Tests for the Kiwis and the third New Zealander to pass the 300-game milestone in the NRL.
The Northland Carvers junior and Whangarei B.H.S. pupil moved to Brisbane as a 16-year-old, playing for Melbourne Storm feeder club North Devils. Blair turned out for the Junior Kiwis in their drawn series with the Junior Kangaroos in 2003.
The athletic forward made his NRL debut for the Storm in 2006 and it took only 16 rookie-season appearances – including a grand final defeat to Brisbane – to convince Kiwis selectors he was ready for the rigours of international football. He came off the bench in four Tri-Nations matches, including the epic golden point final loss to the Kangaroos.
Injury severely restricted Blair’s football in 2007 and he missed the Kiwis’ end-of-year schedule, but he became established as a Storm regular the following season. He played in another grand final loss for Melbourne but got his hands on some silverware after featuring in all seven of the Kiwis’ 2008 Tests. Starting in the front-row in the World Cup final against Australia, Blair’s nonchalant pick-up of a loose ball to score sealed New Zealand’s euphoric 34-20 triumph.
Blair posted another four-pointer and was one of the standouts of the Storm’s 2009 grand final victory over Parramatta. He played all five of the Kiwis’ Tests in 2009 – winning the NZRL’s International Player of the Year award that year – and was a regular at prop, lock or second-row for his country until the end of 2012, including another Suncorp Stadium upset of the Aussies in the 2010 Four Nations final.
But his tenure in Melbourne ended prematurely after being rubbed out of the 2011 finals by a suspension emanating from the infamous ‘Battle of Brookvale’ clash with Manly. Blair linked with Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall at Wests Tigers in 2012, but the joint venture was on the slide and the star recruit became a target for criticism.
After missing World Cup selection in 2013, Blair produced an improved NRL campaign with the Tigers the following season and received a well-deserved recall for the Kiwis’ new-look Anzac Test line-up and successful Four Nations assault. The 28-year-old was a front-row starter in all four Four Nations matches, including dual wins over the Kangaroos and a nail-biting eclipse of Samoa in a historic Test in Blair’s hometown of Whangarei.
Revered coach Wayne Bennett lured the resurgent Blair to Brisbane in 2015 and he played a key role in the Broncos’ drive to the grand final, where they lost a golden point classic to the Cowboys. Blair was subsequently named co-captain of a youthful Kiwis squad for the tour of England, though Issac Luke skippered the side in the three Tests.
Blair was ever-present in all six of New Zealand’s 2016 Tests, as well as the following season’s Anzac Test. Midway through the year he was announced as the Kiwis’ captain for the World Cup. Blair led his country in all four matches at the tournament, but the campaign ended in a shock quarter-final loss to Fiji.
Often a polarising figure due to his sail-close-to-the-wind style of play and lack of output in key statistical areas, Blair’s value as a player and leader is illustrated by the calibre of coaches who have clamoured for his services at club and rep level, and the esteem he is held in by teammates.
The skilful enforcer returned to his homeland in 2018 to take up a four-year contract with the Warriors and was instrumental to the club’s long-awaited return to the playoffs. His streak of 14 consecutive matches for the Kiwis was broken when suspension ruled him out of the Denver Test against England, but he was available at the end of the season and featured in a record-equalling fifth victory over Australia and two matches against England.
After skippering the Māori All Stars in a historic pre-season encounter with the Indigenous All Stars, Blair brought up his 300th NRL appearance in 2019 – following Ruben Wiki and Simon Mannering as the only Kiwis to achieve the milestone – and illustrated his durability by extending his run of playing 22 or more games to 12 consecutive seasons.
Left out of the mid-season Test against Tonga, the 33-year-old put an otherwise disappointing club campaign behind him with late call-ups to New Zealand’s World Cup Nines and Test squads. Blair started at lock in the loss to Australia in Wollongong, before being honoured after the first Test win over Great Britain at Eden Park for earning his 50th Test cap – again following in the footsteps, his first New Zealand captain. He also came off the bench in the Kiwis’ series-sealing defeat of the Lions in Christchurch.
Extending his Test career-span to 14 seasons also put Blair in rarefied air – only Kurt Sorensen and long-time international teammate Marshall (15) boast a longer tenure in the black-and-white jersey in terms of time.
After playing an inspirational role as co-captain in Māori All Stars’ 30-16 win over Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, Blair broke Wiki’s record for the most appearances by a non-Australian in the Australian premiership. He played every game for the Warriors in an outstanding season form-wise while also providing vital leadership throughout the club’s arduous campaign based on the Central Coast amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The much-admired 34-year-old announced his retirement prior to the Warriors’ final-round win over Manly in Gosford – the 331st match of Blair’s career.