Dane Coles reveals lowest point of four-month rugby layoff: 'I thought this might be it'
Danes Coles' road back from concussion has taken him through dark places, struggling to do some of his favourite things.
The Hurricanes hooker suffered a concussion on March 18 and has not played rugby since, though he is optimistic of playing in this weekend's Super Rugby quarterfinals, flying to Australia with the team on Tuesday for the clash with the Brumbies.
Coles' struggles with concussion were so severe stadium noise would cause him trouble.
"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. 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," Coles said.
"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'."
That conversation with wife Sarah was a bleak one, about halfway through his four-month layoff when he was at his lowest and considering at age 30 whether retirement from rugby was his best option.
"I had a talk to my missus and said 'this might be us, I might be hanging up the boots' and that was about it. Nothing like trying to find a new job or anything, just the way I was thinking and the state I was in.
"I spoke to a few good people and they gave me some really good structures to help me see a positive mindset and turn things around."
Meetings with the psychologist, his former team-mate James Broadhurst who was forced into early retirement by concussion, and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai all helped. Ngatai's been through plenty of to and fro waiting for symptoms to clear.
Coles reviewed the tape and knows he suffered the head knock when landing heavily trying to avoid team-mate Jordie Barrett on that March night at Westpac Stadium. He had a week off, symptoms showed when he started training again and then he suffered a calf strain which drew things out further.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wanted him to delay his return till the semifinals, Coles said, after he finally made progress before heading into camp during the Lions series. With the Hurricanes satisfied, and Coles champing at the bit, his Canberra return was locked in with coach Chris Boyd confirming the hooker would start on the bench against the Brumbies.
The toughest part was being close to playing, but not being fully clear of symptoms.
"It's pretty hard. Just watching the lads go about their work and being on the sideline… running the water wasn't too bad because you can help the boys out."
Coles expects to play 20-30 minutes off the bench against the Brumbies, and will take over the captaincy from TJ Perenara, such is his influence on the defending champions.
The man himself thought he'd be a bundle of emotion in the coming days, the last of what will be 125 days out of the game.
"I'm pretty nervous, to be honest. Confident I can get through it but just being out of the game for so long, there's mixed emotions. Happy to be back and I can't wait to get out there and just play footy. It's been the hardest four months I've ever been through in my rugby career.
"... There's obviously a bit of fear, that's usual. Knowing the way I play and my attitude, once I'm in the thick of it I'll be just thinking about playing footy. I've trained with the Canes boys for a couple of weeks and I've been getting into them at training. I've just built up my contact and getting that belief and confidence back and I'm in a good spot."