Dane Coles reckons his new status as Hurricanes captain is proof that sport can transform a troubled character.
All Blacks hooker Coles will replace Conrad Smith as skipper of Super Rugby’s nearly team, with TJ Perenara their new vice-captain.
Coach Chris Boyd says the pair are both potentially long-term leaders of the only New Zealand side yet to win a title, a drought they came painfully close to ending this year.
For 28-year-old Coles, selection in the All Blacks was a first step in moving on from a troubled period of his life when he had several brushes with the law.
It goes to another level now he’s been handed leadership responsibilities, helping to revoke a past which includes convictions for fighting in public and drunk driving.
“It’s funny where the rugby jersey takes you, I never thought I’d be a captain,” he said.
“I’ve had a few bumps on the road to get to where I am but I’ve definitely learned from those lessons.
“Hopefully I’m a better person and never make those mistakes again.”
Coles, the established first-choice Test hooker with 36 caps, paused when offered the captaincy by coach Chris Boyd before the Rugby World Cup.
He eventually said yes after consulting France-bound Smith, who was captain for four years.
Composing pre-game talks was among the biggest concerns for a player whose last captaincy stint came at college, joking that he’ll search online for some good material.
“I’ve always let my actions do the talking but Snakey (Smith) said you’re not alone, you’ve got a good group of guys there who can feed off each other.
“It took me a while to accept but now that I have, I’m really excited. It should be good for me and get me out of my comfort zone.”
The Hurricanes won a competition-record 15 games this year before losing the final at home to the Highlanders.
Four senior players have departed – midfield greats Smith and Ma’a Nonu, lock Jeremy Thrush and prop Ben Franks – but Coles is reluctant to call next year the start of a new era.
He points to a group of semi-experienced teammates who have been around for much of his seven seasons.
“Conrad was very passionate about this side and that’s something I want to keep up.
“Hopefully me and TJ can take what he’s done and keep growing it.”