June 23 (Reuters) - ACT Brumbies and Wallabies back Christian Lealiifano returned to action less than a year after being diagnosed with leukaemia on Thursday, raising hopes that he could be closing in on a remarkable appearance in the Super Rugby playoffs.
The 29-year-old inside centre, who has 19 test caps, was diagnosed with the disease last August but was fit enough to play the final 30 minutes of the Brumbies’ exhibition game against the Asia-Pacific Dragons in Singapore.
Lealiifano underwent two chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant late last year, and was informed by doctors in February that the cancer was in remission.
“I couldn’t sit here and fathom what he’s gone through with his chemo, the treatment he’s had and the transplant,” Brumbies assistant coach Dan McKellar was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.
”He looks in as good shape physically as I’ve seen him. He’s fit, he’s strong and that’s probably the benefit he’s had in recent months -- he’s been able to spend some quality individual time with (athletic performance director) Ben Seppell.
“His involvements were like he’d been playing all year.”
Lealiifano, who kicked six conversion as the Brumbies won 61-14, said being back on the field was an important step in his ongoing recovery.
”It was fantastic to get back onto the field and play some rugby after such a long layoff,“ he said in a statement. ”This is another step in the recovery process and it felt good to be on the field and fully involved again.
“I am concentrating totally on my recovery and my rugby at the moment and my focus is on helping the team and trying to get back to full health and my best as a rugby player.”
The Brumbies sealed their place in the Super Rugby playoffs after winning the Australian conference prior to the international break.
They play two more regular season games when the tournament resumes in July and McKellar said it was up to coach Stephen Larkham and Lealiifano to decide if he would play again before then.
“Whether he plays some more club rugby... that decision will be Stephen’s and Christian‘s,” added McKellar, who will take over from Larkham next season. (Writing by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by John O‘Brien)