When Asante Conley was first diagnosed with cancer, specialists said it was best not to play contact sports.
But the plucky 6-year-old, who idolises Richie McCaw, has found getting out on the rugby field has been the best therapy.
Yesterday, at the Marist St Michael's Rugby and Sports Club junior prizegiving Asante was awarded club sportsman of the year.
Asante was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia on his fifth birthday, New Years Eve 2014.
Asante's mum, Cherie Lang, said she was very overwhelmed especially because she had originally been told by Starship not to let him play contact sports.
But, because Asante loved Richie McCaw and really wanted to play rippa rugby she sent a random email and the club got back to her, so they went along.
"I thought there's no way he is going to play, he's too shy, but they managed to coax him on to the field."
She said because his father lived overseas, he didn't have any male role models which was a big reason for joining the club.
"It's not just about rugby, he had no male role models, except Richie McCaw. The coaches, Graham Pederson and Roy Pocock, have been amazing, he listens to everything they say."
She said Asante had always looked up to Richie McCaw and whenever he was feeling down if she told him he had to be strong like Richie he would perk up, but now it was his coaches he looked up to.
Now in remission, Asante is in the maintenance phase of treatment with oral chemotherapy every night and trips every three months to Auckland for check-ups. It will last another 18 months.
"He has done amazing, I think him playing rugby has been the best therapy for him. It's been a hard road . . . not knowing if he is going to make it. He has 18 months to go in remission. The doctors are hopeful that he will make a full recovery.
"When I first let him play I was worried. But I went from thinking what am I doing, this could be bad to this is the best thing I could have done."
Mr Pocock said Asante was a great kid.
"He's pretty impressive, I didn't realise he was sick for a while, he's such an easy kid. He doesn't moan or whinge, he just does it. We are looking forward to having him next year," he said.
Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
- Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).
- Leukaemia may affect red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
- Signs include fever and bruising.
- Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose it.