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New Super Rugby franchise set to name inspirational Lealiifano as first captain

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11th October, 2021
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Former Wallabies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano, who overcame leukaemia in 2016, will be named the inaugural captain of the Moana Pasifika team in their debut Super Rugby season, according to a newspaper report.

The Sydney Morning Herald says Lealiifano was also sought after by the Brumbies.

Lealiifano, 34, last played for the Wallabies at the 2019 World Cup, where he started at No.10 in the quarter-final loss to England.

His career appeared to be finished five years ago when he was diagnosed with leukaemia but he returned to play for Ulster, Brumbies and the Wallabies.

Brumbies and Wallabies coach Dan McKellar, told the Herald: “He’d be a great addition to the Pasifika side. He’s a proud Samoan man.

Christian Leali'ifano of the Wallabies looks to pass

Christian Lealiifano playing for the Wallabies in 2016. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images for HSBC)

“A new club, having a leadership role and a mentoring role and establishing what that club stands for, obviously with his own strong ties with his Samoan and Pasifika background – he’s going to love that challenge.
“He still has a lot to offer, there’s no doubt.

“He’s a great captain, leads through his actions and he’ll have a real presence on that Pasifika group.

“It’s great. Good, experienced players like that, that want to compete at this level, it’s good for the competition, and it’s good for the young players that will be able to bounce ideas around and learn off someone like Christian Lealiifano.”

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Lealiifano’s return is one of sport’s more remarkable stories and one he outlined in depth for the Ulster website in 2018.

“Probably through the (2016) June (Test) series I was feeling a little bit off,” Lealiifano said.

“I didn’t know what was going on and sort of just tried to push through training and just got tired and it was getting worse and worse.

“I couldn’t shake a cold or do anything really.

“I had just had my son, who was two months old, people thought that was probably why I was so run down and tired — like sleepless nights — and then I was trying to do fitness in training and started to have burning sensations in my hands and my feet and I was like ‘something’s wrong, I don’t feel right, this has never happened to me.’

“I went off to see the doctor and he told me to go off and do a test, he thought I caught a virus or something and went for a blood test.

“I walked into his office and he explained all the blood counts and dropped the leukaemia word on me and I was like ‘that’s such a heavy word.’

“Immediately I just switched off and he kept talking, and you just there, leukaemia, and like ‘ah man, that’s not good for anybody’ and then I had to pack my bag and go to hospital.

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“Went into hospital, found out Thursday afternoon, I was in Thursday night and started chemotherapy on Saturday morning and as soon as I got to hospital it was all about how am I going to get better? How can I get better?

“And then trying to stay positive for trying to get your best outcome.”

Lealiifano said he took strength from his family and his Christian faith.

He lost 12kg in two weeks during chemotherapy treatment.

“Believing in God’s plan, believing in what he had in store for me and understanding whatever I was going to go through I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t alone, and each night I’d pray, every morning I’d pray and it almost became like meditation for me.

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“To have my son there and knowing that — I think there were times where if he or I were sick we couldn’t have contact because it could make me worse — was a real drive for me as well that I needed to be a father for Jeremih.

“Like there was no way he was going to grow up without a dad and that motivated me so much.

“Just to see him lie there and smile — whether I had hair or not, whether I had eyebrows or not he’d smile at me exactly the same — that to me was a true gift.”

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