Dane Coles admits he pondered retirement as injury problems sent him to 'dark place'
Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles has the spring back in his step and a sparkle in his eye as he approaches his first rugby match in four months against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.
Coles will be named on the reserves bench for the quarter-final clash, the first time he has played since developing the lingering concussion symptoms which have sidelined him since mid-March.
Coach Chris Boyd has noticed the gradual rejuvenation of his captain, with Coles's confidence growing rapidly in recent weeks.
"With the last two or three guys who've had longer term concussions, there seems to be a point where the smile comes back on the face and the skip comes back into the walk, and they're away," Boyd said.
"We saw that maybe just before he went away to the All Blacks, I think he turned the corner."
Ideally, Coles will manage 20 to 30 minutes on the field in his comeback, and Boyd expects his skipper to make a big impact.
"When he comes on he'll take over the captaincy and he'll assume the reins and I think you'll find he'll take control," he said.
Coles says he's approaching the game with a mixture of nervousness and confidence after what he describes as the hardest four months of his rugby career.
"I got into a bit of a dark place," he said.
"I had conversations with my partner about retirement. It was really hard. I love playing footy, it's my job and I couldn't do it."
Working with a sports psychologist helped put some structure back in his life, Cole said, and turned around some negative thinking.
"I thought this might be it, I might be hanging up the boots."
Support from players like former team-mate James Broadhurst and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai - who had both suffered serious concussions - also helped, he said.
Now all that remains is that final step back into Super Rugby, and while Coles is a little nervous, he's confident that won't last long.
"There's obvious a bit of fear, I think that's usual. But knowing the way I play, my attitude, once I'm amongst the thick of it I'll just be thinking about playing footy.
"I'm in a good spot now."