Sonny Bill Williams inspired the Chiefs, one of the pre-tournament favourites, to open their Super Rugby campaign by holding off a late charge by the Blues for a 23-18 win on Saturday night in Auckland.

The Chiefs made a flying start as they profited from opposition mistakes to score the game's two tries, with Williams - on his return after two seasons in the NRL - playing a key role in both five-pointers.

From a scrum in the 11th minute, quick hands by inside centre Williams and fullback Tom Marshall had the ball out to winger James Lowe, who eluded the cover defence to dot down.

Four minutes later, Williams pulled down an uncontested midfield bomb and offloaded to winger Bryce Heem, and the former New Zealand Sevens speedster scored in his Super Rugby debut.

But the home side kept nibbling away as five-eighth Ihaha West banged over a succession of penalties.

His last with nine minutes to go pulled the Blues to within striking distance, but the Chiefs were able to wind down the clock and stretch their winning streak over their neighbours to eight matches.

West had an intriguing match-up with another young five-eighth, 19-year-old debutant Damian McKenzie, who was in for rested All Black Aaron Cruden.

McKenzie showed a willingness to take the line on, even if he did get a crunching hit on one occasion.

He also landed five kicks from seven attempts, two of them from long range.

The Blues' only response in the first half was three West penalties but it kept them in touch at just 20-9 down at halftime.

The home side had a great opportunity to make a big dent in the deficit early in the second half when Chiefs skipper Matt Symons was sin-binned for infringing at the breakdown.

However, they couldn't take advantage, the sides swapping penalties during the lock's absence.

The Chiefs host the Brumbies in New Plymouth on Friday night, while the Blues play the first of two matches in South Africa when they face the Stormers later in the weekend.