Weight of expectation lifted off Lealiifano

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Christian Lealiifano’s story is an inspiring one, but the Brumbies flyhalf is looking forward to stepping back into some kind of football normalcy in 2018.

On Wednesday night, Lealiifano will lead the Brumbies out for the first time since being diagnosed with leukaemia in August 2016, and his first match since returning from an off-season loan stint in Ireland.

The 30-year-old’s journey back to rugby, through intensive treatment, was watched closely by those in rugby around the world and his surprise return in a Singapore friendly, followed by a remarkable Super Rugby comeback in July, coupled with his seemingly constant positivity made his an even more incredible tale.

Though the playmaker has voiced his gratitude for all the support he had throughout the process, this season may be the start of a different chapter for Lealiifano.

Christian Lealiifano can't wait to return for the Brumbies. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyA desire to get out of the Australian bubble was a big element in his decision to go to Ulster at the end of 2017, admitting he felt the weight of expectation as he worked his way back to Super Rugby last year.

“(It was) refreshing to get away, (there was) a lot of focus on my health and getting back to playing Super Rugby and then along with that came a little bit of pressure as well,” he said.

“It was nice to head away and start afresh somewhere where I'd never been before and to a team and an organisation and a competition that hadn't seen me play in their competition.

“That was a really nice experience for me and my family and to do it that way, being in Australia for as long as I have been to experience that is something I'm grateful for and hopefully it's helped me grow as well as a player and person.”

As the Brumbies embark on the 2018 season, Lealiifano is desperate to help the side take the step they haven’t been able to in the past five finals series and hold up the trophy, and he hopes the changes this season on and off the field will get them there.

“I really, really want some success for this organisation, this club,” he said.

“You look back at the Gregan-Larkham days and all those kind of things. It's been a long time since this club has tasted some success and that's something that drives me a little bit.

“Thinking about it, I don't have long (left in my career) - I've been here over 10 years now and haven't - been to one final, been to a few semi-finals and just come up short.

“The motivation's still there to try and get over the line but if you keep doing the same stuff you're going to get the same result which is why I'm really enjoying the new change and that excites me.”

With Lealiifano off contract at the end of this season, this could even be his last in Canberra, keeping his options open when it comes to his 2018 destination.

“Experiencing rugby in the UK was fantastic, really opened up my eyes a bit,” he said.

“I guess if you asked me 12 months ago, I'd probably say, ‘I'll just stop here, I absolutely love this place and adore what it's about’.

“I guess it's (the overseas stint) something that given me a bit more options now, and a bit more time to sit back and look at different things and experiencing what I've experienced with my family, it's something I really have to consider now.

“But obviously I've just got to have those conversations when I need to have them.”

The Brumbies play their final trial on the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday February 14, against the Chiefs, kicking off at 7pm local, 8pm AEDT. Stream the game at brumbies.com.au