A year ago rugby pessimists were overwhelmed with slurry. In the eyes of the amateur selectors, the All Blacks midfield was fast becoming a problem child in the wake of the World Cup success.

Ma'a Nonu had shot through, Sonny Bill Williams was redirecting his attention to Olympics sevens, George Moala was damaged and Charlie Ngatai had been dinged after a hugely encouraging Super Rugby campaign.

He was named in the squad alongside the reliable Ryan Crotty with an optimistic forecast he would recover from concussion to play in the latter part of the mid-year series against Wales. That was not to be for Ngatai as a prognosis for his return became as blurred as his symptoms and later pushed into questions about whether he would play again.

The All Blacks got through their issues with Crotty and Ngatai's teammate at the Chiefs, Anton Lienert-Brown, stepping up to the plate to share the entire test programme between them.


That constricted list has expanded this season with SBW and Moala back in the race alongside Ngani Laumape, Rob Thompson and after an exploratory few games at lower level, Ngatai in his Super Rugby comeback tonight for the Chiefs.

He reunites with Lienert-Brown in a Chiefs side which has wobbled in recent weeks but with a few changes look more threatening for their duel with the Reds in New Plymouth. It's a provincial homecoming for Ngatai who also captained the NZ Maori side and the start of what could be a well-timed return.

Presumptuous for sure, but if Ngatai is back on Super Rugby duty in anything like his form last season he has to be in the All Black mix.

He brought all the qualities for the position and the best out of Lienert-Brown. While other second fives had their skittery moments, Ngatai exuded a presence in midfield and the sort of sense and low error rate which make Crotty such a high-quality competitor.

In a few games, if Ngatai stays intact, we will start to see some answers. The Chiefs will have a better all-round look and balance about their backline because he will offer a balance for Aaron Cruden to use and an experienced direction for those on his outside.

It has been a long wait for the Chiefs, their supporters and the All Black staff but it must have been double that anxiety for Ngatai and his whanau. Life on the sideline was not in his plans. He could always find something else but if the medics agreed, it would be great to have another go. That patience has been answered. Now we'll wait to see if there's a bigger dividend.