Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot has reflected on his comeback, having seemed destined for early retirement last year.
The 29-year-old was feared to have played his last game after seriously injuring his neck playing for the Maori All Blacks at the end of 2013.
Fusion surgery gave Elliot the opportunity to return and he has tentatively made his way back all the way to starting in last week's win over the Blues – an amazing achievement that Elliot, through a more focused training regime, is grabbing with both hands.
"It was just a matter of how my body was [how long I would last] and I started cramping up so the best thing for the team was probably that I come off," Elliot told the Waikato Times.
"I'm just building into it and hopefully I get the nod for next week and keep building."
"I wanted to come back in better condition than when I left the game and I've done that, ticked all the boxes, done the rehab and I'm in a good place both physically and mentally to take on this season.
"I think I'm more resilient now in terms of what I've been through. It's been a hell of a journey, a hell of a tough year to get through what I've been through, be pretty close to retirement and to come back and be starting tonight in the opening game of this season – I'm pretty proud."
Elliot was one of the more experienced players for the Chiefs last Saturday, with the likes of Aaron Cruden, Hosea Gear, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick all left out.
The younger players however stood out, with Elliot admitting that he felt a sense of responsibility to set the tone.
"I'm one of the older heads in the team and had to lead by example on Saturday and our set-piece functioned well for the majority of the game, so we're ticking some boxes but there's still some work that needs to be done before next week because the Brumbies are a pretty formidable force and we're going to have to be on top of our game.
"Hopefully we'll be welcoming back some heavy duty players, but they'll have to get up to speed because I felt the young boys who stepped into their shoes tonight did a pretty good job."