Wallaby out half Christian Leali’ifano is just happy to be given the chance to play rugby again after recovering from leukaemia.
The Australian has signed a loan deal from the Brumbies which will keep him in Belfast until the conclusion of the European Champions Cup pool stages.
“I am really and truly grateful for the opportunity that I get to play rugby again,
“I said all along my health was number one, just to get back to be a father and a dad to my little boy, that was number one, and being able to play rugby again is an absolute bonus,” said Leali’ifano.
“I’m grateful every day that I get to step out again and do what I love doing while I can, and the opportunity that I have now, really really stoked.”
Leali’ifano has made 19 appearances for Australia but thought his rugby career was over.
“All I could do was enjoy each day for what is was, and be positive whatever the day throws at you.
“You never know, tomorrow could finish you and you’re six feet under, that’s my approach, rugby was the end goal but I wanted to take each day and maximise each day.
“The thought of playing is what excites me so much and another thing that makes me really grateful for the opportunity, and humbled.
“Humbled that a team still values what I can produce and what I can do, that’s exciting.
“To think that you probably couldn’t play rugby again through that time is definitely hard, and then to be able to come through the other side is truly rewarding.
“To know you can pull a jersey on again and do some gym work and throw the footy around with the guys is rewarding.”
Leali’ifano arrived in Belfast on Wednesday and although he is not in the squad to face the Northampton Saints tonight he is expected to make his Ulster debut against the Cheetahs despite the relative short bedding in period.
“It has been a pretty quick transition, I have sat down with the coaches to go through some things to try and fast track that a little bit.
“I’ll have a little bit of time while they are away to sit down and watch some stuff and watch them play and hopefully hit the ground running on Monday.
“I’ve played against Charles Piutau, Louis Ludik, Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee in Super Rugby and then against the Irish guys like Rory Best and Jared Payne.
“I was saying to Charles it is nice to mix in with guys that you usual play against and that is what excites me, it excites me to mix in with guys from other cultures and try something different and pick their brains and work with them.”
The Pro14 may be new to Leali’ifano but he will face familiar foes in his first game.
“I looked at the draw and I was like, ‘Am I going to play Super Rugby again?’, interesting to see them join the competition, the Kings and the Cheetahs.
“But it’s going to be an exciting week next week to play against a team that’s from the Southern Hemisphere in this competition. I am looking forward to it.”