Dane Coles is perfectly suited to the faster, more mobile nature of modern rugby. The dynamic hooker is never far from the action in any match and has quickly gained a reputation as an exciting, natural ball player with speed to burn.
Fresh-faced Dane Coles literally burst on to the provincial scene in 2007, scoring two tries on debut off the bench for the Vodafone Wellington Lions against Otago late in the match, first crashing over from short range and then outpacing the cover defence in an electric run to the line from 40 metres out.
He had only been on the field for less than 30 seconds against Otago before scoring the first of his two tries and is only the second player after Steve Skinnon to score twice on championship debut for Wellington, Skinnon having done so against Taranaki in 1996.
Coles went on to make seven more appearances for the Lions in the 2007 Air New Zealand Cup and scored one further try against Tasman as he continued to set pulses racing whenever the action came his way. These included runs off the bench in each of the last five games in place of an injured Tone Kopelani and also included game time in each of the three play-off matches against Southland, Canterbury and Auckland respectively.
Coles’ excellent first-up season surprised no one who’d been watching him all year in Wellington after an outstanding five months in which he made the New Zealand U21s and starred in club rugby. He was named Wellington Rugby’s most promising player of the year in 2007 and also won the Billy Wallace Trophy for Best and Fairest points awarded each week for his contributions playing for his Poneke club side.
He is the type of player who features more as the game progresses. That’s when the game tends to open up more and the non-stop hooker can be seen running with the backs or supporting his cover defence. But while he’s made his name for his cameo appearances, he is eager for much more game time this year now that both last year’s hookers Kopelani and Luke Mahoney have departed for overseas.
“I can’t wait for this year to start. I’m pretty much raring to go to get into it. With the departures of Tone Kopelani and Luke Mahoney I think there’s a big opportunity for me and Ged Robinson who was a loan player to Manawatu last year to hopefully get a start.
“I think I clocked up about nine games last year in total including one pre-season cap against Auckland, all off the bench. It was good last year to have those guys around me and take me under their wings and show me the ropes, but I’m waiting for the opportunity to wear that number two jersey this year.”
He says the environment at Lions HQ in Newtown is really positive and the new coaching staff are really helpful and preparing the team well for the start of the campaign against Hawke’s Bay on 1 August at Westpac Stadium.
“We have been training at our base in Newtown and also went out to Trentham Army Camp for a session with the army, where we had to carry barrels and heavy objects around. We pulled a tank and pushed a truck, so that was a good team bonding session.”
He has been training hard since the start of the year and enjoyed being part of the Hurricanes Wider Training Group during the Rebel Sport Super 14.
“Being in the Hurricanes Wider Training Group was a really good experience. Earning a Rebel Sport Super 14 contract next year would be an ultimate goal for this season, but first I will concentrate on trying to get a starting spot in the Air New Zealand Cup and that will just take care of itself hopefully.”
Coles has also tasted the life of a touring rugby player before. In 2005 he played for the New Zealand U19s World Cup side in 2005 that lost to Australia in the final in South Africa and played for the New Zealand U21s in their one internal match last year against Canada. Although NZ Colts lost that match 16-13, he says it was a really good experience to have played against an international side.
He was brought up on the Kāpiti Coast and played all his junior rugby there, before attending Paraparaumu College for four years and then Wellington College in his final school year. He played for Horowhenua U16s in 2001 and 2002, also making the New Zealand U17s in 2002. The move into Wellington College saw him play for both the Wellington Secondary Schools and Hurricanes Secondary Schools in 2004.
Unlike other players who play a number of positions in their formative years, he has generally always been a hooker, but says he played a little bit at both blindside flanker and openside flanker while at Paraparaumu College.
His most admired rugby player is Christian Cullen, but the hooker he most admires is Keven Mealamu.
Any tips for young hookers wanting to find their way to the tryline on a regular basis? “Just stay in the backline and run for a hole and hopefully get in it and then keep running! Then you’ve got to credit the people inside you and the guys giving you the passes.”
Wellington Rugby fans will be on their feet cheering this year if he continues to follow his own adviceno