Many of you will never have seen Karmichael Hunt play with Israel Folau for the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL and then in State of Origin for the Queensland Maroons. All of you will have noticed that Hunt after a long stint in the AFL (preceded by Union in France and a hugely distinguished NRL career) has now signed for the Queensland Reds, and as if that was not enough for boom players, the Reds grabbed James O’Connor as well. If you had watched Hunt’s NRL career you might have noticed something; Folau played wing and Hunt played centre. Why is this important I hear you ask? Well let me ask you this question, who tends to have all round better ball skills, a winger? Or a centre?
People will rave about Israel Folau forever and a day in both codes, but in the NRL Karmichael Hunt was the springboard from which Izzy could dive into the try scoring record books. And the ARU have signed the puppet master in the hope he can once again rekindle his devastating partnership with their shiny new toy, Folau.
However before all of that, there is the small matter of the man in question making it into the Reds starting team. There is a very strong argument for him to be given a crack at a centre berth but even with the departure of Mike Harris there is still a considerable amount of talent in the Reds backline, not least of all Anthony Fainga’a and Ben Tapuai along with new blockbusting talent Samuela Kerevi. Being in the centres would allow him more space and allow him to bring his outside backs onto the ball with his silky skills and sublime passing, and his defence would stand up to the rigours of modern day ball carriers. Not only that but the threat of James O’Connor looming on his outside as a winger or fullback could be the catalyst to get the Reds back into Super 15 Finals contention. And we have not even mentioned the other dual threat of Chris Feauai-Sautia, who despite an injury hit 2014 is said to be coming back to his best, and raw speedster Lachie Turner.
An alternative, and from a neutral perspective a much more attractive proposition, would be to allow Hunt to play fullback. With few established fullbacks at the Reds, he could slot in and utilize his kicking skills (perfected from playing both AFL and the NRL) along with his creativity to bring people onto the ball. He would play much more like a rugby league fullback (think Willie Le Roux), inserting himself into the line when and where he saw fit. Playing both creator and finisher. This extra all round playmaker will truly give the Reds a fourth dimension, with Will Genia, Quade Cooper, O’Connor AND Hunt all being capable of slotting into a playmaking role.
And now to the several million dollar question, where might he fit in if he should happen to play for the Wallabies? Well there is a theory in South Africa they call ‘wings on strings’ which basically means the back three are interchangeable ergo an Australian back three combination for the RWC ’15 may consist of Folau and O’Connor on the wings and Hunt at fullback, each capable of playing wing and fullback. This would allow all three to get involved in the game when they saw fit, and increase an already fluid backline, as these three ran lines off the fly half and inside backs, as well as popping up on quick turnover ball to run at reorganizing defences. Hunt may not have the raw speed, or the natural step of Folau, but his vision and passing game will mean that as opposed to Folau, who leans towards more of a finisher role, he will be more of a creator.
The simple fact of the matter is that if Hunt takes to Super 15 (and bear in mind he has already played rugby for Biarritz) the same way Folau has the sky is very much the limit for the Wallabies heading into the World Cup next year. Having already stood toe to toe with the South Africans and All Blacks and come unscathed from both encounters, they could have a very strong chance of winning the William Webb Ellis trophy again.
As if the Reds have not recruited well enough, there are strong rumours they have all but signed Taniela ‘Tongan Thor’ Tupou after his rejection of the NZRU’s contract negotiations. With a brother in Perth and feeling that Australia has a better history of playing Tongan players, not to mention the fact that he has always preferred watching the Wallabies Tupou felt that he would rather play in Australia and potentially for the Wallabies. His highlight reels include barnstorming runs and beautiful ball play. However there will be all sorts of hell in the halls of power. Never before has a New Zealand schoolboy turned down the opportunity to play for the All Blacks, especially a front rower. The Kiwis have a strong track record of developing front row talent, wheres the Wallabies……sort of don’t……
He will learn from two of the better props in Australia in James Slipper and Ben Daley, and his size will never be questioned (one would imagine he will even be required to slim down a little bit), however it is one thing to score three tries in 20 minutes when you are 135kg in a New Zealand schoolboy game. And another to play 80 minutes in the best domestic league in the world, where most are as skilful as you and as physical, and do not care how big you are. This is not to say he will not make it, on the contrary I am a huge fan of the way he plays and consider him the next evolutionary step in props. However he still has a very long journey ahead of him before he can even come close to playing for the Wallabies, just because he defects to play for the Wallabies does not mean he will immediately (I give him at least 4 years). The talking heads are suggesting he will be phased into the extended (EXTENDED!) Reds playing squad by 2016.
Maybe, just maybe, the Australians have uncovered the all round prop they have been looking for, for so long!