October 14, 2016 / 2:26 AM / in 9 months

Rugby - Australia's Leali'ifano to have bone marrow transplant

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Australian Wallabies rugby player Christian Leali'ifano successfully kicks a conversion of teammate Adam Ashley-Cooper's 75th minute try during the second test match against the British and Irish Lions in Melbourne June 29, 2013.David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Wallabies back Christian Leali'ifano is to undergo a bone marrow transplant next month, with his younger sister the donor, as he continues to battle against leukaemia.

The rugby world was shocked in August when the then 28-year-old playmaker was diagnosed with the disease after suffering a brief illness that prompted further testing.

Leali'ifano, who can play either flyhalf or inside centre, said on Friday he had already had two bouts of chemotherapy which had put the disease into remission and the next step was a bone marrow transplant.

"Hopefully the transplant goes well and gives me every chance of beating this leukaemia," the 29-year-old told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.

"Both bouts (of chemotherapy) I got infections on both because you've got no immune system.

"It definitely knocks you about, but I'm staying positive."

Leali'ifano added he had been tested for potential donors for the transplant, with a family member the best chance.

"Luckily enough for me my younger sister is a match," he said. "For the family that is quite a special thing and for your sister to give you the gift of trying to save your life, it's quite special."

The 19-cap Wallabies utility, who was named the Players' Player of the Year by his ACT Brumbies' Super Rugby side, said he was optimistic about the transplant, though it was too early to say if he would be able to play top class rugby again.

"I'm reasonably positive. The things in my favour are that I'm young, pretty fit and I've got a suitable match," he added.

"One thing they can't guarantee is that everyone will be cured, but it gives you every chance of beating it.

"I hope one day to be able to run out there on the field. If not, I'm happy to accept that as well."

Leali'ifano's diagnosis prompted an outpouring of global support, with current and former Brumbies' team mates -- including fellow Wallabies David Pocock, Matt Toomua and Matt Giteau -- shaving their heads as he underwent chemotherapy.

"The amount of support I've been given from the rugby community not only in Canberra, but globally to give me every chance of beating this is keeping me motivated and positive," he said.

"As soon as I found out, it was about tackling it head on and finding the next process to get better."

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ian Ransom

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