From the brink of retirement to ironman status in Super Rugby.
Hika Elliot admits he’s surprised himself with his relentless form for the Chiefs, providing a feelgood story which could yet end in an All Blacks recall.
Eighteen months ago the three-Test hooker’s hip bone was used to fuse his neck together, repairing a bulged disc injury which had threatened his ability to walk, let alone play rugby again.
Elliot sat out 2014 aside from a couple of appearances for provincial minnows Poverty Bay, giving no indication of the brilliant campaign that lay ahead.
The dynamic front-rower will play his 100th Super Rugby game on Saturday, against the Hurricanes in New Plymouth.
More important to Elliot, it will be a 15th start in 16 games this season, a feat which will be matched by only a handful of other New Zealand players.
Given the attrition of Super Rugby, it is an achievement that rates against anything else in his 10-year professional career.
“To start every game bar the game I was suspended (against the Cheetahs) is something that I’m really proud of given what I’ve had to overcome,” Elliot told NZ Newswire.
“I always believed it was possible but it was hard to hear other people telling me something different back in 2013.”
Tentative thoughts when he first returned have long-since disappeared. They had to in the position he plays.
“I’m confident with the work that I’ve put into my rehabilitation. The neck’s stronger now than it ever has been and I think I’m playing more consistent rugby than I ever have in my career.”
Elliot has heard the talk that he is poised to add to three short-lived stints with the All Blacks. He made his debut against Munster in 2008, started two Tests in 2010 and added another cap against Ireland in 2012.
The 29-year-old prefers to let his form do the talking rather than sell his chances of winning a World Cup ticket alongside likely New Zealand hooker selections Dane Coles and Keven Mealamu.
Elliot is more outspoken about his provincial options this year, revealing he is yet to sign with an NPC union.
He left Hawke’s Bay in acrimonious circumstances after eight seasons, playing the 2013 campaign at Counties Manukau.
“I’m still looking around for a team actually, nobody wants me,” he said.
“When you look at how many games I’ve started for the Chiefs and I can’t get a bloody ITM Cup contract at the moment. I’m putting it out there for any team who wants me.”
MOST 2015 STARTS (NZ TEAMS)
14 – Brendon O’Connor (Blues); Sam Cane, Hika Elliot (Chiefs); Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders).
13 – Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, TJ Perenara, James Broadhurst, Reg Goodes (Hurricanes); Jordan Taufua, Luke Romano (Crusaders); Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith (Highlanders).