Rugby Union

Brumby Ita Vaea's return to Super Rugby an inspiration for Julian Huxley

It says a lot about Ita Vaea's battle to return to rugby when a man who beat brain cancer has nothing but admiration and respect for the ACT Brumbies No.8.

Former Wallaby Julian Huxley knows better than  most the physical and mental hurdles Vaea has had to overcome to get back to not only Super Rugby level, but pushing for a spot in Michael Cheika's World Cup squad.

Ita Vaea of the ACT Brumbies was given little chance to play rugby again.
Ita Vaea of the ACT Brumbies was given little chance to play rugby again. Photo: Matt Bedford

Vaea was diagnosed with life-threatening blood clots on his heart in October 2012 and he was given little chance to ever play rugby again.

Now he's an integral cog in the Brumbies forward pack, including their Super Rugby qualifying final against the Cape Town Stormers at Newlands on Sunday morning (AEST).

Julian Huxley was diagnosed with a brain tumour and told to stop playing rugby with the Brumbies immediately.
Julian Huxley was diagnosed with a brain tumour and told to stop playing rugby with the Brumbies immediately. 

It's a similar path to the one Huxley headed down seven years ago.

After being diagnosed with a brain tumour, he immediately stopped training and playing to undergo surgery and radiation therapy.

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Two years later - including 18 months training on his own - he returned to the Super Rugby arena with the Brumbies before switching to the Melbourne Rebels to continue his career.

It was a remarkable feat, which Huxley admitted included some dark times with nobody giving you a chance of returning.

That's why he's so impressed with Vaea's return. Even if they didn't share a similar journey, Huxley said the powerful Tongan's "big hits and big runs" meant he would have been a player he would love watching.

The battle he faced just to play again makes it even more special, having had to start his career all over again and prove that he was still able to play at the elite level.

"It's a real emotional rollercoaster, as much as everyone supports you, the toughest times you've got to go through on your own ... no one really knows the depths and troubles you've been through," Huxley said.

"Because I've been through it I look at that story from Ita and think that's an amazing show of strength to make it back.

"It really is ... I look at his story full of respect and admiration for him coz I know how hard it is."

While playing in the Super Rugby finals would be special, Huxley said Vaea's first game back would have been the special one.

For Huxley, that was lining up for the Brumby Runners against a junior NSW Waratahs side in Sydney, three weeks before he returned to the Brumbies team to play the Waikato Chiefs.

He said sport helped reveal people's character, which was why he admired Vaea so much.

"It gives an insight into the sort of person Ita is, he must be a very strong, impressive guy to be able to come back from what he's been able to come through," Huxley said.

"I found that was something that really helped me deal with my brain cancer, you realise you're presented with an opportunity to show what you're made of and Ita making such a success of himself since he's come back has really shown what he's made of."

Huxley said you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it and now Vaea would probably have a different outlook on life.

He said while young players are told they need to plan for the future as their careers could end at any moment, it was hard to see that as anything but a cliche.

"You really value the moment much more the second time around because you know it could disappear, it could be taken from you through no fault of your own, so you make the most of every moment," Huxley said.

"I imagine Ita this time around, I can't speak for him, but for me you really live in the moment, you value it and you're excited because of it and life is such a blessing because it is so fleeting.

"If we all lived forever none of these moments would be as special as they are.

"I'm sure he's over there just looking to make the most of it because nothing's guaranteed to any of us ... and that looks like the way he's playing - he's been very good this year."

SUPER RUGBY QUALIFIER

Sunday: ACT Brumbies v Cape Town Stormers at Newlands, 1am. TV Time: Live on Fox Sports 2. Brumbies function: Casino Canberra Galaxy nightclub.