Captain Leali'ifano to end Brumbies career
Cancer survivor Christian Leali'ifano says he will never forget his close bond with the Brumbies after announcing a deal with Japanese club rugby for next season.
In-form skipper Leali'ifano will complete a celebrated 12-year association with the Canberra-based Super Rugby team when they contest the looming finals.
He'll then possibly turn out for the Wallabies later this year before his shift to Japan, where he will reportedly play for NTT Communications.
The 31-year-old said the decision to leave was the hardest of his career, particularly given the success of the current campaign.
Under coach Dan McKellar they finished the regular season with a six-match winning streak to claim the Australian Conference crown, setting up a home quarter-final this Saturday against the Sharks.
They've done it with 148-match veteran Leali'ifano as a controlling influence at five-eighth, producing what many believe is career-best form and opening the likelihood of a Test recall.
He hasn't represented the Wallabies since winning a 19th cap against England in June, 2016.
Two months later he was diagnosed with leukaemia, forcing him out of rugby for a year while he recovered from chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
His return to the field was met with worldwide acclaim and Leali'ifano said he would always remember how the Canberra community supported him and his family.
"I'll hold the Brumbies close to my heart for a long, long time," he said.
"I never thought it was time to move on after coming back from illness, I thought it was a massive achievement to come back.
"I'm really pleased I've banged out another couple of years. I could probably go another couple more but then you'd probably miss these opportunities (Japan)."
Leali'ifano believed the Brumbies' future looked bright even though he joins senior figures David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter and Henry Speight in departing.
New Zealand-born Leali'ifano was raised in Auckland and Melbourne before representing Australia at age group level.
He made his Test debut against the 2013 British and Irish Lions in Brisbane, famously being replaced in the opening minute after being knocked out when attempting a tackle.
Leali'ifano has captained the Brumbies 46 times, a figure headed only by Ben Mowen (51 times) and George Gregan (47) and became a universally respected figure, according to McKellar.
"You will not meet a more selfless person," McKellar said.
"To go through what he went through, and to come back and still find time to lead and care for those around him, to be there for his teammates, he's an incredible person."