Wallabies selection hasn’t come easily for Karmichael Hunt, but his obstacles have ultimately helped him reach the peak in a third football code.
The first two seasons of his rugby sojourn barely found a smooth patch, cocaine charges overshadowing his first season and crippled by injury in his second.
Making the move to rugby at 28, the chances for a Wallabies recall lengthened as he simply tried to keep his rugby career afloat.
So to find his way into the Test side for the first time at 30, is a turn of fortune that he feels eclipses his efforts in NRL and AFL.
“It's up there, just obviously for the fact that it hasn't been an easy road for me, especially coming back into rugby, (that was) well-documented but also on the injury front for me,” he said.
“I'm never one to give up, always one to always worry about what I can do to get back to a position where I can be selected.”
There was never any guarantee for Hunt, who just pipped Reece Hodge for the starting 12 jersey, a move he didn’t have wind of until early on Thursday.
“Cheik popped past me in the hallway in the Collingwood centre and said ‘You might just want to start reading over the plays as a 12’,” he said.
“I said ‘Oh, fair enough,’ because I’d obviously been trying to get a hold on the 15 plays and then half and hour later, in the team meeting, he calls my name as a 12.”
“My head's a little bit scrambled at the moment but come game day I'll be ready to play.”
The 30-year-old spoke with a rawness on Friday about his journey to a Wallabies debut, with an honesty rarely seen, though often called for, a value Hunt knows all too well.
“Honest reflection was the cornerstone of it, just looking at myself and just wanting to know where I could get better as a person,” he said.
“Honesty I think is the best form of propelling yourself forward.
“”I’ve got a good nucleus at home, always have - especially with my wife, three kids, mum and dad and external family - you go to the Reds, you go to my in-laws, they're very caring of me and understand that I don't have the easiest (of) control.
“I like to live life on the edge a little bit, so they've had to curb me a little bit but I’m a lot more mature now. - Karmichael Hunt
“I feel like I'm in a really good position going forward and I'm just happy that's all in the rear view now, so I'm looking forward to it.”
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika hailed Hunt’s resilience on Thursday, when his selection was announced, and said it was his mentality that was his point of difference.
“He's overcome some hardship, even since he's come to rugby, some difficulties and that's what we want in players. We want them to be resilient,” he said.
“His attitude towards footy this year has been - clearly I think everyone can see the way he's approached his football.
“He wants to enjoy every minute that he's out on the paddock and show something there.
“That's warranted the opportunity to wear the gold jersey.
“I think that fills the values that we have and what we want our players to be, what we want our players to show their supporters on a Saturday.”
His mistakes have been laid bare in public, in and out of football, but Hunt said that steely resolve had always been in him.
“I've always put myself out there from a young age , I've never been shy of making mistakes. I think it's ingrained in me,” he said.
“I just want to do things for the evolution of myself as a footy player but also as a person and regardless of what the noise is outside.”
Cheika’s reward is freeing for Hunt, whose seasons in AFL were heavily scrutinised, an examination that has rarely let up since his pioneering switch.
“Since I moved to AFL, it hasn't been easy. I've been battling for positions, battling for recognition for my hard work,” he said.
“For the national coach of the Wallabies to give me that recognition is really, it is a dream come true, but it's also liberating just to see the hard work i've been putting in has been seen.
“I look forward to repaying him.“
Though he is a debutant, more than a decade of top flight football means Hunt is somewhat of a leader amongst a young Wallabies squad, a far cry from the trio of other rookies, Ned Hanigan, Richard Hardwick and Joe Powell, with an influence that skipper Michael Hooper is all too aware of.
“I’ve been impressed with Karmichael this week, he smashed me in training this week on Tuesday in that bog of a field out there (Gosch’s Paddock) and so I felt every bit of that,” he said.
“His voice, (that was) something that Stephen (Moore) told me going into this week (about Hunt).
“Even though it’s his debut, we’re wanting Karmichael to deliver that voice.
“He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience in varying codes. Bringing all that to the squad is hugely important, particularly on the field.”
The Wallabies take on Fiji on Saturday afternoon, kicking off at 3pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.