Top 15 of 2017: Lealiifano's comeback

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It's been a big year in rugby on many different fronts, so is taking a look back at the 15 biggest storylines of the year, based on the stories you read and reacted to.

#!: Lealiifano's comeback

In a year that has delivered some very grim days for Australian rugby, it can be easy to forget some of the moments that reminded fans of the good parts of the sport.

Christian Lealiifano's Singapore return was one such uplifting moment, that brought those within and outside of the code some positivity.

Lealiifano was diagnosed with leukaemia in August 2016, a moment that had his career, and his health, on tenterhooks, just months after he became a father to son, Jeremih.

The 30-year-old proved an inspiration to every one of his teammates, though, fighting through one of the most difficult challenges any person would have to face.

Before the season began, then-Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said he was hopeful co-captain Lealiifano would return to rugby by the end of the year, but there were no strict timelines in place on that.

Once the flyhalf finished a bout of treatment in Melbourne, he and his family were straight back to Canberra and he was straight back into the club, slowly returning to training, but moreso being an advisor for the new 10 Wharenui Hawera and the rest of the young Brumbies group.

As the season ticked on, a return still seemed unlikely, but Lealiifano pulled off a comeback in a very understated way.

Travelling with the group to Singapore for a game during the June Test series break, the flyhalf told his teammates just before a friendly against the Asia Pacific Dragons that he would be playing.

It didn't take long for the decision to travel around the world, with thousands of messages of support posted on social media.

He didn't go straight back into Super Rugby after that, with some hamstring trouble, but his Canberra Stadium cameo against the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby quarter-final won't soon be forgotten.

Close friend Scott Sio spoke after that match, and throughout much of the season, about the inspiration and perspective Lealiifano had given him, a constant pillar of support even in his most difficult days.

When Lealiifano spoke for the first time publicly since his comeback, he revealed it was the energy of little Jeremih that helped him in his darkest moments.

At the end of the 2017 season, Lealiifano joined Irish club Ulster on a short-term contract to add to his game time in recent months, and ready himself for Super Rugby in 2018 with the Brumbies.

On  the final day of 2017, Lealiifano's story might just be the one that Australian rugby needs to hang on to.