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'This is like a bit of a last chance effort for me': All Blacks hooker reveals 'dark times' and future aspirations

By Sam Smith
Nathan Harris, Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles. (Photo by Chris Symes/Photosport)

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Former All Black Nathan Harris has admitted that there were times during his injury-enforced absence over the past 18 months that the 29-year-old seriously considered throwing in the towel.

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Nathan Harris made a welcome return to the Chiefs this season, playing his first match for the franchise since 2019 when he ran out against the Crusaders during this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

Harris fractured his left ankle during the 2019 provincial season with Bay of Plenty and while in recovery for the break, discovered that his niggling shoulder issues were a result of a major rotator cuff injury.

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“I’d had a shoulder injury that whole year, and they couldn’t find anything, and then I ended up going to a different doctor and getting a second opinion, and they injected it with dye, and there was just rips all through it,” Harris told Stuff.

While the shoulder recovered well, more ankle problems reared up in 2020.

“I went back to see the surgeon, then got a few scans done, and he was like, ‘Your bones are separating, they can’t be doing that,’” Harris said.

“The tightrope mechanism wasn’t working, so they had to go in and re-do that, putting two big screws in there. They took a hamstring graft and wrapped it through my ankle to make sure it was nice and tight.”

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That laid waste to Harris’ return with the Steamers before the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup even kicked off and Harris was forced back into recovery mode.

Finally, Harris was able to take the field for the Chiefs earlier this season – almost one and a half years after his last match of professional rugby.

In Harris’ absence, the likes of Samisoni Taukei’aho and Bradley Slater have stood up for the Chiefs while Liam Coltman and Asafo Aumua have notched up appearances for the national side.

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It’s that burning desire to once again represent the All Blacks that has fuelled Harris throughout his time on the sideline, with the 29-year-old last wearing the silver fern in 2018.

“It was pretty tough times, some pretty dark times,” Harris told Stuff. “There were numerous conversations around just even retiring straight off the bat.”

“That was part of the thing around coming back to play – that I don’t want to give that dream up,” he said

“If I had said, ‘no’, then I probably would have just retired and said, ‘Nah, look, I’m done with it.’

“So this is like a bit of a last chance effort for me, to give it one more crack. They were thinking about fusing my ankle, but I can’t play with that, so this was just like a happy medium where I can sort of just see how I go.”

Since making his return off the bench, Harris has made three further appearances for the Chiefs, including starting in the team’s narrow victory over the Western Force in their opening match of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Harris faces a tough ask trying to usurp Taukei’aho as his franchise’s first-choice hooker, while even a bench spot won’t come easily with Slater notching up plenty of appearances over the past two seasons.

Still, you don’t earn an All Blacks call-up without being willing to work hard and a return to form for the Chiefs and Bay of Plenty would be a fairy-tale way for Harris to finish up his 2021 season – especially if he can avoid any further niggling injuries.

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'This is like a bit of a last chance effort for me': All Blacks hooker reveals 'dark times' and future aspirations

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