Once fit to rank as the world’s best hooker, Dane Coles is just happy to have been offered another New Zealand contract.
Former Manu Samoa No 10 and freelance rugby scribe Campbell Burnes sees Dane Coles’ re-signing as a gutsy, but good, move for the injury-ravaged rake.
Four years ago, as the Monday morning quarterbacks were sharpening the quills to write the rugby obits of Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu, months out from Rugby World Cup 2015, I made the prediction that the pair would be reunited by the time of the big event and play key roles for the All Blacks.
I could not have been certain about how their bodies, or form, would hold up, but there was a hunch they had the class, experience and nous to come right when it counted.
Likewise, I have never given up on Dane Coles. He is 32 and coming off two years that were largely racked by issues with concussion, knee and calf complaints. I felt he was lucky to make the northern tour, having played so little rugby. But he came through it and a solid pre-season. By the time you read this, he should be leading the Hurricanes with aplomb. Touch wood.
Coles went to some dark places in 2017, contemplating giving it all away or heading overseas to cash in one last time. But he’s a home boy at heart and now, having inked a deal that will see him stay at the Hurricanes and in New Zealand until the end of 2021, his smile will be as wide as anyone’s in the game. He has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Wyatt Crockett as modern day front-line All Blacks who have played their full professional careers on these shores.
Coles has come a long way from the fiery bogan from Paraparaumu who made some unwise choices around drinking and driving. But on the field he lit up the 2007 Air New Zealand Cup, scoring four tries in his first 17 minutes of first-class rugby with Wellington. He brought flair, skill, an allround game to the hooker’s role, but never neglecting his core roles. That is why he was fit to rank as the world’s best hooker for 3-4 years.
But the last two seasons have challenged him mentally more than ever. He could not shake concussion symptoms for many months, then his body let him down when he had shaken them. Furthermore, there was the small matter of the rise of Codie Taylor, who was just about the best (male) player in the country in 2018. Coles may have to content himself with playing second fiddle to Taylor, just as Keven Mealamu did when Coles was hitting the high notes in 2014-15. Something tells me he will be at peace with that scenario.
Coles loves helping out his clubs Poneke and Paraparaumu when he can. That sort of attitude gains instant respect among rugby people.
He has earned the right to enjoy his rugby for the next three seasons.