In his darkest moments last year as he struggled with the effects of concussion – so bad he couldn't attend matches as a spectator due to the crowd noise - Dane Coles thought about retiring from rugby.

This year it was the knee injury which required a secondary operation, plus a calf problem. For a man considering a career as a firefighter once his playing days are over, one metaphorical blaze on his body would be doused only for another to break out somewhere else and the "Coles in injury setback" headline would get another run.

No wonder, after he missed the British and Irish Lions tour last year due to that long-term head injury only to return and rupture the ACL in his left knee against France in November (the last test he played), Coles thought about scrapping the game for 2018 and starting afresh for the Hurricanes.

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Before we forget, Coles has also had to respond to a rib problem. Now he's back in the All Blacks squad for the northern tour, and fingers around the country will be crossed Coles gets through Wellington's Mitre 10 Cup semifinal against Auckland at Eden Park on Saturday unscathed.

Formerly the best hooker in the world – that title has probably been taken by South Africa's Malcolm Marx – the 31-year-old scrapper is due a bit of luck and an acknowledgement from the All Blacks coaches that his resilience and mental toughness is appreciated and an inspiration by and for all the team (and more on the latter shortly).

"I didn't think I would get back this year; it's probably not relief, more a reward for how hard I've worked to get back on the field this year," Coles told Radio Sport on the day he was announced in the All Blacks touring party. "I feel very humbled… they've put me back in the team despite me not having played.

"It's been tough; I've got close to getting back to play a few times and I've had a few setbacks. I thought a few times I might give this year a rest and have a good pre-season with the Hurricanes. You find a way.

"I might not be playing a lot of rugby but at least I'll be in a team again and training with a team rather than by myself.

"I'd like nothing more than to put on a black jersey again; it would be pretty special because I've worked really hard to get back into the frame."

He has often cut a lonely trail. As the All Blacks went through their final paces in bright sunshine at Eden Park the day before they thrashed Australia 40-12 in the second Bledisloe Cup test in August, Coles ran up and down the northern stand's sideline alongside physio Pete Gallagher.

Later, he and Gallagher ran up and down the stand's steps, leading to thoughts Coles could play a part in the Rugby Championship, but such have been the setbacks he has suffered after seemingly getting close to a comeback, in the end head coach Steve Hansen refused to put a time frame on the hooker's return.

Once he does pull the black jersey on again for what will be his 57th test, it will be a special moment for Coles and his family who have shared in his adversity. And should all things go to plan, Coles could start in the No2 jersey for the test against Japan in Tokyo on November 3.

If so, he will be the most experienced player in the team, so what better honour than to name him captain (No8 Luke Whitelock is probably the other option).
Not to jinx him, hopefully, but Coles' battle with concussion last year alone seemed bad enough.

"Even going to the stadium I'd struggle to be around the noise, people screaming, I'd be down for a couple of days I'd be so fatigued from it," Coles said in July last year after he missed the Lions tour.

"That was hard because I couldn't go to the game and support the boys. I slowly clawed my way back and to be amongst it was pretty awesome.

"I got into a bit of a dark place. I couldn't even do any exercise and 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," Coles said.

"There were a lot of days thinking about it, it was constantly on my mind and it wasn't till I saw a sports psychologist I was referred to, that put some structure in my life and the way I was thinking. I was quite negative, not in a bad way, just thinking 'this might be it'."

He's back now and his leadership and talents around the field will be greatly appreciated, starting, hopefully, with the top job.