Christian Lealiifano was not at the Brumbies season launch alongside his new co-captain Sam Carter, but coach Stephen Larkham says the playmaker will not be absent from the club for long
The ACT flyhalf has been based in Melbourne undergoing treatment for leukaemia and has to be available for regular checkups for 100 days following a November bone marrow transplant
“He's spent a lot of time thinking about the program, the players, he was obviously our co-captain last year and did a tremendous job, really stepped up in the leadership department, so it made sense to keep him on board with a view to hopefully having him back by the end of the year,” Larkham said.
Lealiifano has been making his way to Canberra as often as possible during his recovery, recently surprising his teammates at Brumbies HQ and Larkham said his presence gave the team a notable lift.
“The fact that he wasn't here today it was very difficult for him,” he said.
“He's been up here every chance he's had to break free of Melbourne, he's been up here and around the boys, so particularly for the last three weeks, we've seen him up here quite a bit and we'll see him more and more from now." - Stephen Larkham
The 28-year-old will be able to return to training at some level six months after his operation, a date that is still roughly three months away, but Lealiifano will be actively involved in a coaching capacity.
While Larkham said he was optimistic of a fairytale finals return for the captain, realistically any involvement he could even in training would be its own special story.
“If you look at the timeline, six months post-transplant is when he can start to get back into a bit of training, at what level we're not sure yet and that's provided everything goes right up until that point,” he said.
“Realistically it's obviously life-changing what he's gone through and it's knocked his body around a fair bit and I think mentally it's changed his perspective a bit but he's desperate to get back out onto the rugby paddock.
“I'm ever the optimist but I think realistically, it'd just be good to see him training again.”
Carter paid tribute to Lealiifano at Wednesday’s season launch, describing him as the ‘soul’ of the Brumbies outfit.
“Christian's a massive part of this organization - he's the soul of the team,” he said.
“Having him just provides massive perspective for pretty much the whole team so when we get him towards the end of weeks... he comes up, he lifts all the energy because he's just got an infectious attitude. - Sam Carter
“I'll do all the on-field stuff until he's right to play again but any bit of experience I need to know I can always go to him and he's going to be helping me out.
“All the boys respect Christian and what he does on and off the field so I don't see it as a problem at all, I see it as a massive plus for us.”