Christian Leali’ifano was awarded RUPA's Medal of Excellence on Wednesday, recognized not just for his performances on the field, but also the incredible strength he has shown off it.
Leali’ifano was voted by his peers, including former Wallabies teammate Matt Hodgson, as the player who demonstrated the best performance, leadership, consistency and discipline, both on and off the field, during the international and domestic rugby seasons.
The Western Force veteran and RUPA Player Director said Leali'ifano was an inspiration to those around him.
“Off the field, what Christian has been through and how he’s held himself in the last couple of months, everyone respects that. He gives other people a lot of hope, and people see a lot of strength in him,” he said.
“I was lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time with him in Wallaby camp and toured the UK on several Spring Tours, and he’s a great man.
“He really deserves the award not just for his rugby ability, but for what he does off the field. I know the Brumbies boys will really miss him next year.”
Hodgson took out the 2016 RUPA Community Service Award, recognised for his off-field commitment to raising awareness of mental health.
Hodgson said his community work for LIVIN WA in 2016 which focuses on mental health in remote WA mining sites was motivated by an issue close to his heart.
“My father suffered depression after going through some strokes and some serious issues, so that’s why I’m so passionate about it,” he said.
“My wife has had some issues with depression in her family too, that’s why we get involved. If we can help one person it’s all worthwhile." - Matt Hodgson
“Every day (with Dad) is living proof that getting behind these charities is worthwhile.”
Hodgson said he was honoured to be able to support the work of LIVIN WA for whom he is an Ambassador and State Committee member.
“If I can help someone in a bad situation break down the stigma and show them ‘it ain't weak to speak’, I’m more than happy to do so.”
Hodgson was quick to credit the Force for the position he finds himself in, able to leverage sport as a tool for change.
"It's definitely important, I know from my perspective they gave me my opportunity.
"If the Force weren’t about I don’t know if I ever would have played Super Rugby.
"Rugby needs teams in WA, there is so much talent growing up there - We are probably a little different to a lot of other states, with an influx of Kiwis, South Africans, even English and a lot of local talent around.
"We have a good core group of players that are going to be playing rugby for a long time... We’re doing a lot as players to ensure the Force is successful both on and off the field."
On the back of the success of the Western Force Wallabies, Hodgson said it was not surprised players are starting to get recognised.
"You've seen Adam (Coleman) and Dane (Haylett-Petty) excel this year after a lot of hard work. I think Luke Morahan should have played a lot more for the Wallabies this year and Jono (Lance) was so close and may have had an opportunity if he didn’t break his arm.
"Looking at our last game against the Brumbies this year, we had around 7-10 local guys in our starting team and people don’t often look at that.
"Rugby is pretty new in WA - with it only being around for a decade - so to get that number of locals in a starting Super Rugby team is pretty good. If you look at other teams, you wouldn’t really know how many home grown are in those Rugby strong states."