Dane Coles will wear the Hurricanes' No 2 jersey for the first time since the 2017 Super Rugby semifinal loss to the Lions in Johannesburg.
Five hundred and seventy-four long days of injury rehabilitation and gym work, of isolation and longing, will end at AMI Park in Christchurch on Saturday.
Sure, there was the end-of-year-tour where he was able to get back in an All Blacks jersey, and a substitute appearance last weekend against the Waratahs, but the Kapiti Coast local has a special soft spot for his home franchise, so leading them out as captain, especially in a big derby match, genuinely means the world to him.
Prior to flying to Christchurch on Friday morning for the game against the Crusaders, Coles said another start at hooker for the Hurricanes did not feel imminent when he was battling his way through 2018.
"It probably did seem a bit far away last year. I had to pinch myself last week just being amongst the boys and putting that jersey on.
"All that stuff I went through last year and the last couple of years, it makes it all worth it to finally get the No 2 on my back and get that swirl [Hurricanes logo] on again."
Coles said the toughest part of the long time off was feeling apart from the squad he was meant to be captaining.
"It's just the little things like travelling with the boys, training with the boys, not being excluded from the team doing your own stuff, and just having fun.
"That's what I'm enjoying at the moment. Just a bit of banter with the lads. The real little things I've been really enjoying being back with the team."
The Hurricanes will need all of Coles' leadership against the Crusaders if they are to stand any chance of grabbing an unexpected victory.
The front row has a lot of experience in centurions Coles and Jeff Toomaga-Allen, and 47-cap prop Chris Eves, but their locks, James Blackwell and Liam Mitchell, have eight Super Rugby caps between them, while No 7 Du'Plessis Kirifi will be making his first Super Rugby start.
Additionally, their 9-10 combination of Finlay Christie and Fletcher Smith have 28 Super Rugby caps combined as All Blacks rest periods take precedence, but Coles said he backed his inexperienced team-mates to make the step up.
"In this comp, you've got to dig pretty deep into your well for your team to go deep into this competition.
"Just because someone like Finn [Christie] doesn't have 60 All Blacks caps doesn't make this team any lesser. I've got absolute confidence in those boys and we can bring TJ [Perenara] and Ngani [Laumape] off the bench."
As for the best way to beat the Crusaders, Coles said they would have to nail their set piece, which will be no small feat at either lineout or scrum time against the likes of Crusaders forwards Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks and Joe Moody.
"You've got to be clinical, especially in your attacking 22.
"You see a lot of teams will get down there and because of their set piece - they seem to pick off balls at the lineout or get a scrum turnover - so I think if we can match them at that set piece I think we'll give ourselves a chance."
AT A GLANCE
What: Super Rugby, round two
Where and when: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday 7.35pm
TAB: Crusaders $1.27, Hurricanes $3.80
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Matt Proctor, Vince Aso, Ben Lam, Fletcher Smith, Finlay Christie, Gareth Evans, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Liam Mitchell, James Blackwell, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles (captain), Chris Eves. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Ben May, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Sam Henwood, TJ Perenara, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ngani Laumape.
Crusaders: David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd (captain), Jordan Taufua, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor.