Super Rugby season a box Lealiifano never thought he'd tick

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It wasn’t that long ago that Christian Lealiifano wasn’t sure if he’d ever play for the Brumbies again.

Speaking after the Brumbies’ final round win over the Waratahs on Saturday night, Lealiifano had ticked off an entire season, less than two years after being diagnosed with leukaemia.

Lealiifano’s journey to a remarkable rugby return was squarely in the spotlight last season as the playmaker came back to feature in the Brumbies’ quarter-final against the Hurricanes.

A short-term stint with Ireland's Ulster brought him back into regular rugby playing time but an entire Super Rugby season was still something he was yet to conquer.

This season was one in which Lealiifano wanted to put himself back in the ‘regular rugby player’ category but he admitted on Saturday night he was proud to have crossed that off in 2018.

“(It's) really, really special and satisfying to put this jersey on again because it's something that I love so much and to be able to have a chance to do it again and get through a year and to be able to lead a special group of guys is always special for me and something I'll never forget,” he said.

“It's almost like ticking the box to say that I'm back, that I've done what I wanted to achieve and when I never thought I could.

"(It's) just a massive journey and to be able to get through a season being managed well by Dan (McKellar) and the performance staff has been fantastic and the medical team,they've been working behind the scenes on making sure that I can get through.

"My health was always going to be number one and that's what I've really loved in the club is the way they've managed me throughout.

"Obviously the last month has been the best I've felt throughout the whole two years, so it's really, really pleasing and something that I'm grateful for."

The significance of Lealiifano's opportunity was put into stark perspective this weekend, as the Brumbies squad caught up with former no. 8 Ita Vaea.

Vaea was forced into retirement in 2016 after ongoing heart issues and coach Dan McKellar said that only made them appreciate Lealiifano's achievements more.

“Last night, we caught up with one of our favourites in Ita Vaea and Ita's one of the greats,” he said.

“He's such a good man - it was good to see him but I had a bit of a chat to him and then you walk away a little bit sad thinking that this bloke can't play footy.

“But he's happy and healthy and that's important and obviously Christian now has had the opportunity to lead us well and I feel the last couple of months of the season Bruz is back to his best.

“He's an integral member of our club and no one's more important.”

Whether Lealiifano will have another chance to lead the Brumbies remains to be seen with the off-contract flyhalf yet to sign a new deal with the club.

He will play in Japan in the Australian summer and said ahead of last week's game that he would be making a call on his future in the coming weeks.