New chapter in cancer survivor's story
NEWS: Twelve months ago his life was turned upside down by the news that he had leukaemia. On Friday he starts a new chapter.
Christian Lealiifano is set to make his first Ulster appearance on Friday in the historic Pro14 opener against the Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
The Australian international discovered - in August 2016 - that he had leukaemia, just two weeks after playing in the Brumbies' final Super Rugby game of the season.
Less than a year later, the utility back came off the replacements' bench to make his comeback to professional rugby in one of the heart-warming stories of the season.
The 29-year-old had to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, before getting the best news possible in February this year: he was in remission.
Capped 19 times by the Wallabies since making his debut against the British and Irish Lions in 2013, Lealiifano was given the green light to resume his rugby career, and he was given an emotional welcome when he returned in the Brumbies' Super Rugby quarterfinal defeat by the Hurricanes in July, 11 months after his original diagnosis.
Earlier this month Ulster confirmed they have signed Lealiifano on a deal which will run until the end of the European Champions Cup pool stages in January.
The 29-year-old will then return to the Brumbies for the start of the Super Rugby season.
Lealiifano has won 19 caps for the Wallabies and recently returned to action after recovering from leukaemia.
He will fill the gap left by Paddy Jackson, who has stepped aside from playing pending legal proceedings.
Fellow off-season signings Jean Deysel and John Cooney will also make their competitive debuts for the Province, having both lined out during the pre-season fixtures.
Friday's match will mark a momentous chapter in the history of the Pro14 Championship, as Southern Hemisphere sides join the competition for the first time, with the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs making their maiden trip to Belfast.
Chris Henry will captain the side from openside flanker, in what is an abrasive looking back row with the South African duo of Deysel and Marcell Coetzee at blindside flank and No.8 respectively.