When the All Blacks' plane to Argentina pushes back tomorrow, Patrick Tuipulotu may take a little moment to reflect on the craziness of the last year of his life which made him wonder at times if he would ever return to the national team.

His journey from November last year to now has taken the most incredible twists and turns and it is testament to Tuipulotu's desire and character that he has forced his way back into the All Blacks.

Even he would admit that for large periods of the last eight months, he didn't look remotely like a test player.

He wasn't even a shadow of the player he'd been in 2014, when, in his first Super Rugby season he forced his way into the All Blacks on the back of his impressive ball-carrying power, cleanout work and presence.


There he was at just 21, so clearly a phenomenal athletic specimen with the size, explosive power, and temperament to be the perfect man to back up Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick from the bench.

But he incurred a nasty groin injury early in 2015 which saw him miss the World Cup and left him with a long and difficult rehabilitation, where he had to get his weight down from 140kg-plus.

By the end of the Mitre 10 Cup, he was back close to being the player he had been pre-injury and was picked to start at lock against Ireland in Chicago.

He didn't have a great game - nor did the All Blacks - but the real shocker came after, when he failed a drugs test and had to leave the tour a week early.

Between mid-November and early February, he was left wondering whether he was going to be banned for two years and his career ruined.

When he was at his lowest ebb during that uncertain period - unable to train with the Blues and unsure if he would ever be able to play again as a professional - news of his failed test leaked into the public domain.

The situation was intensely difficult for him, but against the odds, his B-sample tested negative and he was immediately cleared to play, returning to action in round three of Super Rugby.

He said at the time that he felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders, yet it didn't look like it the way he played.

The intensity wasn't there. The accuracy was intermittent. Tuipulotu appeared to be unsure about himself - lacking physicality, work rate, and aggression.

Too often he was passive: too readily he went to ground and the Blues relegated him to the bench midway through their campaign.

When he failed to inform management that he was running late for training he then suffered the indignity of being dropped from the matchday 23 to play the British and Irish Lions and maybe then, because everyone else did, Tuipulotu thought his All Blacks goose was well and truly cooked.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wasn't of that view, however.

No sensible coach is going to easily give up an athlete like Tuipulotu who at 2.02m and 128kg, and blessed with genuine speed, agility, and a natural leap, has everything he needs to thrive in test football.

Hansen told Tuipulotu to first of all not rush off and sign an overseas contract, but to instead commit himself as captain of Auckland's Mitre 10 Cup to working harder, being more overtly physical and urgent.

He basically said for Tuipulotu to get his hands on the ball more, look to make more, higher impact tackles, get off the ground quicker and wipe people off their feet at the breakdown.

Auckland have struggled but Tuipulotu hasn't.

In the last five weeks or so, he's started to look like his old self.

He's been the one shining light in a gloomy Auckland team and his destructive power has been visible.

That's why the All Blacks have taken him back.

He's been doing what they wanted and at just 24, he has, potentially a long future - certainly a longer one than 31-year-old Luke Romano who offers much the same skills portfolio.

There may be room for both, but Tuipulotu and Romano could find themselves competing for one spot on the end of year tour to Europe.

A few months back such a scenario never looked remotely likely, but in another few weeks, Tuipulotu could even be the favourite to win that battle.