Once the All Blacks complete their season tomorrow against France in Paris there will be one more contest before they shut down for the southern hemisphere summer.

Players and coaching staff who have made it back to New Zealand rather than jet off elsewhere, will be asked to front for the annual awards evening in Auckland in the middle of next month.

It's a night where all levels of the game are acknowledged and where perhaps, in the wake of the earthquakes and difficulties for the Kaikoura region, New Zealand Rugby will divert some of the evening proceeds to help those struggling.

Most attention will zero in on the player of the year award, one which should be a great scrap between Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles.


For me, the name inside the envelope should be Dane Coles.

It has been a year when Barrett has been exceptional in his transition from utility to first choice five-eighths and took out World Rugby's award, Ben Smith played with immaculate skill and timing throughout, Whitelock and Retallick continued to dominate all aspects of their craft as the All Blacks discovered when they were without them in Chicago.

Then there's Coles, the earthy hooker who has a spicy temperament mixed with impish humour and a barrowload of aggressive energy and skill.

His resilience would bring more than a whiff of satisfaction from the former great man in that hooking role, Sean Fitzpatrick.

Coles is often near the epicentre of some drama as he goes about his strenuous and exacting workload at set piece and then manages to scoot about the field with those piston legs and offloads punishing any lax defenders.

He pushed through the pain of damaged ribs to take the Hurricanes to their first Super Rugby crown and even though he was in some discomfort, he then backed up to set the tone against Wales. He sniffed the cordite of competition from burly prospect Nathan Harris who was back from injury in June and also Codie Taylor and laid down the test levels against Wales.

Coles scored tries few other hookers could where his energy, sidestep and skills would not look out of place in midfield.

Socks down, his pistons churn out a choppy style as he ranges down the flanks or punishes unwary defenders round rucks and mauls.

He plays like the combative Pumas captain Augustin Creevy but is more consistent and usually plays more minutes.

He sets the team tone.

The Chicago test against Ireland apart, Coles' lineout throwing has been sharp while there's never been a hint that he bows to anyone in scrums and so far this season, he's yet to sit in the international naughty chair.

The eagle-eyed Wayne Barnes may change that clean slate tomorrow in Paris but it won't alter my view that Coles has been the New Zealand player of the year.