Rugby - Wallabies not priority for cancer survivor Lealiifano

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Rugby - Wallabies not priority for cancer survivor Lealiifano

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – There is more to life than rugby for Christian Lealiifano, who has devoted little thought to reclaiming his Wallabies jersey a year after his leukaemia diagnosis. Lealiifano’s return for the ACT Brumbies’ final match of their Super Rugby season, a quarter-final defeat to the Wellington Hurricanes, was a rare good news story for the local game in a year of strife on and off the field. The 29-year-old utility back played the last of his 19 tests against England in June, 2016. Months later, his world was turned upside down. He underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from his sister late last year. Although he was told the cancer was in remission in February, Lealiifano kept a low profile throughout the Brumbies’ Super Rugby campaign as he battled to regain fitness after missing the pre-season. He relished having a second chance at his life pursuit, mindful that many with his illness never get one. “One of the reasons I have been reluctant to make a big deal out of my story is that I am conscious of all the other people and families that are going through this terrible disease,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday, in his first media appearance since returning to the field. “Not everyone has had the outcome that I have had, and my heart goes out to all those fighting this battle.” A versatile playmaker with a prodigious boot, Lealiifano has appeared mostly at inside centre for the Wallabies with a couple of games at flyhalf. He might eventually be a handy addition to Michael Cheika’s Rugby Championship squad, especially after the loss of Karmichael Hunt to injury and concerns over the fitness of Kurtley Beale, who returned to Australia from a stint with English side Wasps carrying a hamstring strain. Lealiifano, however, is more focused on his immediate future and is considering a possible short-term deal after his season was all but wiped out. He has been linked with Northern Ireland’s Pro league side Ulster but said he was also weighing up remaining at home to play in the second-tier National Rugby Championship. Lealiifano is already looking forward to the 2018 Super Rugby campaign, with Wallabies team mate David Pocock set to return home to Canberra after a year-long sabbatical. “When I first started training I thought I would never play football again,” Lealiifano said. “When the doctor gave me the all clear that I could return back to work, that was when I had my eye on the prize. “It has changed my outlook on life,” he added of his cancer battle. “I would go through this 10 times again for the person I am today, the journey I have been through and the person that I have become.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O’Brien)
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