Leali'ifano set for Ulster stint amid recovery from cancer
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Wallabies utility back Christian Leali'ifano is set to join Irish club Ulster on a short-term contract as he bids to make up for lost time in his recovery from leukemia.
Leali'ifano signed a deal to play with the Belfast-based club until Jan. 22 and will return to the Canberra-based Brumbies to join season training ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby competition.
"I feel that it's important that I get some minutes playing competitive rugby," the 29-year-old Leali'ifano said in a statement Monday. "With this opportunity, I feel I can come back to the Brumbies in great shape."
The 19-test Wallaby made his return to Super Rugby when he was selected on the bench for the Brumbies in a quarterfinal loss to the Wellington-based Hurricanes last month, 11 months after being diagnosed with leukemia. He had chemotherapy and underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant in late 2016, and was told in February that his cancer is in remission.
New Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said there were benefits for Leali'ifano and the clubs in the short-term deal.
"On field, it is about Christian getting an opportunity to play professional rugby for a good club in a very strong competition," McKellar said. "Off field, it is about Christian and his family getting the chance to experience a new culture and enjoy new life experiences that he was unfortunately denied 12 months ago."
Ulster will kick off its Pro 14 season against the South Africa-based Cheetahs at home on Sept. 1.