Cancer survivor Christian Leali’ifano says he will never forget his close bond with the Brumbies after announcing a deal with Japanese club rugby for next season.
In-form skipper Leali’ifano will complete a celebrated 12-year association with the Canberra-based Super Rugby team when they contest the looming finals.
He’ll then possibly turn out for the Wallabies later this year before his shift to Japan, where he will reportedly play for NTT Communications.
The 31-year-old said it would be difficult to leave the Brumbies, who he has represented 148 times, particularly after their current campaign.
Under coach Dan McKellar, they finished the regular season with a six-match winning streak to claim the Australian conference crown, setting up a home quarter-final this Saturday against the Sharks.
They’ve done it with Leali’ifano as a controlling influence at five-eighth, producing what many believe is career-best form and opening the possibility of a test recall.
He hasn’t represented the Wallabies since winning a 19th cap against England in June, 2016.
Two months later he was diagnosed with leukaemia, forcing him out of rugby for a year while he recovered from chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
His return to the field was met with worldwide acclaim and Leali’ifano said he would always remember how the community got behind him.
“The Brumbies mean a lot to me and my family and they have given me so much,” he said.
“The support that the Canberra public gave me and my family through a difficult time in my life will never be forgotten.
“I believe this club has a bright future under Dan (McKellar) and his coaching staff and look forward to following that progress.
“We still have much to play for this season as well … and I am fully focused on doing my best to help us reach the next stage.”
He made his Test debut against the 2013 British and Irish Lions in Brisbane, famously being replaced in the opening minute after being knocked out when attempting a tackle.
Leali’ifano has captained the Brumbies 46 times, a figure headed only by Ben Mowen (51 times) and George Gregan (47).
“We are sad to see Christian move on but we are very grateful to have had such a quality person at our club for so long,” McKellar said.
“You will not meet a more selfless person. To go through what he went through, and to come back and still find time to lead and care for those around him, to be there for his teammates, he’s an incredible person.”
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.