All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett's return to the Hurricanes tonight might be described as a comeback due to his late start to the season, but few can measure up to that of his opposite at the Brumbies Christian Lealiifano.

In 2016, Lealiifano was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of blood-forming tissues which hinders the body's ability to fight infection. After complaining of tiredness which was initially put down to the sleeping habits of his then two-month-old son, Jeremih, Lealiifano had a blood test and the next thing he knew he was in hospital. Days later he was having chemotherapy. Later he received a bone marrow transplant from a sister.

"Went into hospital, found out Thursday afternoon, I was in Thursday night and started chemotherapy on Saturday morning and as soon as I got to hospital it was all about how am I going to get better? How can I get better?," Lealiifano said in an interview.

A little closer to home, former Highlanders captain Nasi Manu, now playing for Italian club Bennetton, is facing a similar fight. Manu, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year and has undergone chemo-theraphy treatment, wrote recently: "The whole experience has given me perspective on life, what's really important to me and how I want to start living moving forward.


"Thank you to everyone for your love and support."

Manu is said to be on the mend and back training with the support of his club and no doubt the best wishes of rugby supporters around the world.

Lealiifano, 31, is now in remission having been clear of any signs of the disease for two years. And, remarkably, the Brumbies playmaker, who will start for his side against the Hurricanes at Palmerston North's Central Energy Trust Arena tonight, is in the form of his life.

He was instrumental in dismantling the Chiefs in Canberra last weekend on the way to his team's 54-17 victory and must be in line for a recall to the Wallabies. Lealiifano played in the Brumbies quarter-final defeat in 2017 before moving to Ireland to play for Ulster and although he returned to Canberra for a full season last year, he hasn't played a test since 2016.

That might be about to change, as neither incumbent Bernard Foley nor wildcard Quade Cooper appear to possess the consistent attacking threat Lealiifano has at his best.

Asked about his performance at GIO Stadium, Lealiifano said: "It's easier to say [that's the best I've felt in a while] when you win by 30 points and you're on the front foot. But it's a hard question to answer because you feel good every week.

"It seems like it's always a match-up against me, with Quade one week, [Damian] McKenzie the next then Barrett the next, it's a tough competition, but it's about preparing as a team."

The Brumbies haven't won a match in New Zealand since 2014 and although they shouldn't need any extra inspiration against the Hurricanes, they could do worse than follow the example of their skipper, a man who lost 12kg in two weeks due to chemotherapy but never gave up hope.


In an interview with Ulster rugby, Lealiifano said: "To have my son there and knowing that — I think there were times where if he or I were sick we couldn't have contact because it could make me worse — was a real drive for me as well that I needed to be a father for Jeremih. There was no way he was going to grow up without a dad and that motivated me."