Cancer survivor Leali’ifano back for Brumbies in playoffs

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2014 file photo, Australia's Christian Leali'ifano, center, runs away from New Zealand's Richie McCaw, left, during the Bledisloe cup rugby match against New Zealand in Brisbane, Australia.  Leali'ifano has been selected on the reserves bench for the Brumbies in the Super Rugby playoffs, less than a year after being diagnosed with leukemia. Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham announced inside back Leali'ifano's comeback on Tuesday, July 18, 2017,  for their home quarterfinal in Canberra against the Wellington, New Zealand-based Hurricanes.  (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) Christian Leali’ifano has been selected on the reserves bench for the Brumbies in the Super Rugby playoffs, less than a year after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham announced inside back Leali’ifano’s comeback on Tuesday for their home quarterfinal in Canberra against the Wellington, New Zealand-based Hurricanes.

The 19-test Wallaby was diagnosed last August with leukemia and had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant late last year. He was told in February that he was in remission from the cancer.

Leali’ifano was cleared to make his comeback in an exhibition game in Singapore in June, and also later played in a fourth-grade club game. But his Super Rugby plans were delayed when he injured his hamstring two weeks ago.

”I’ve seen him go through some really difficult times,” Larkham said. ”I’ve seen him push himself beyond breaking at times to get right for this. It was an emotional journey but now there’s good focus on the team. It’s a great story for Christian and certainly fitting for him to come back in front of his home crowd.”

Leali’ifano trained strongly on Monday to prove his fitness for the playoff match.

”There’s no real need to get Christian on the field but I think he’ll give a nice energy boost to the boys when he does come on,” Larkham said.

Leali’ifano’s co-captain Sam Carter will also return to the starting lineup, with the Brumbies recalling a number of players who were rested in last weekend’s 28-10 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Wallabies props Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa are back in the starting XV, along with outside center Tevita Kuridrani and halfback Joe Powell.

The Brumbies topped the mediocre Australian conference with only six wins in 15 matches to qualify for a home quarterfinal, and were able to rest some players in the last round of the group stage.

The Brumbies have won eight of the 10 playoff matches they have hosted, but have lost 10 games in a row to New Zealand teams.

Brumbies: Tom Banks, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Andrew Smith, James Dargaville, Wharenui Hawera, Joe Powell, Jordan Smiler, Chris Alcock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter (captain), Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio. Reserves: Robbie Abel, Ben Alexander, Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, Blake Enever, Jarrad Butler, Tomas Cubelli, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Christian Leali’ifano.