How Karmichael Hunt found rugby redemption

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

If Grant Denyer asked his Family Feud audience to describe Karmichael Hunt, there would be an indisputable list of top answers.

Unfortunately, the bad often flows to the front of mind before the good and as such, the drug scandal of 2015 would top the list.

Next would be how Hunt cut his teeth as a professional footballer - his fearless returns from fullback at the Brisbane Broncos.

Following that would be his remarkable switch to AFL with the Gold Coast Suns and last but certainly not least would be the Queensland Reds.

But Hunt, who is in the final year of a three-year contract, is doing everything he can to put the Reds firmly on top of that list.Hunt has shaken the injury woes that plagued him in 2016. Photo: Getty ImagesHe is Queensland’s form player in 2017 and his absence in the loss against the Brumbies was noted by Nick Stiles in the aftermath.

The three-code veteran puts his remarkable rise down to a complete shift in how he has gone about rebuilding a body that failed him in 2016.

There were glimpses of the form that has put him firmly in Michael Cheika’s sights last year but persistent groin problems halted any consistent progress in his rugby career.

That has changed in 2017.

“I hadn’t foreseen how hard the transition was going to bee - obviously regardless of the legal side of things - just my body and there were things I didn’t quite understand after being on the coast for five years and playing AFL,” he said.

“This now, I feel like I’m getting to where I wanted to be when I initially made the cross over.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s been a really big three years but now I feel really thankful for everything that has transpired and how I’ve gotten to this point.Hunt had a stop-start beginning to his rugby career. Photo: Getty Images“The hard work that I’ve done over the last year with Crapper (Reds physiotherapist Cameron Lillicrap) and Marshy (head of athletic performance Damian Marsh) - that’s really set me up for a big year.”

Hunt was clearly playing underweight when he did get onto the field in 2015 and 2016.

That limited his impact with ball in hand and in the area where he has thrived the most in 2017 - his role as the team’s defensive leader.

“I was sitting at around 89, 90kgs when I got here,” he said.

“Now I’m at about 96, 97.

“A lot of it was glute and core work - a lot of that came about from my groin issues.

“So we went back to the drawing board, went back to scratch and started doing things differently to try and build a really strong base around that midsection so I could support my upper body weight and move around more efficiently.

“Weight was definitely a big issue for me - that’s something that I probably didn’t understand at the time but looking back now, my weight made it tough.

“The type of conditioning was another - just that repeat speed.

“AFL is a lot more long distance stuff.

“My repeat speed stuff was not up to scratch and it’s finally getting back to that.”

As Hunt found his feet physically, his impact on each game grew - so much so that he is now one of Queensland’s most important players, perhaps only behind Quade Cooper.Hunt's combination with Quade Cooper is starting to shine. Photo: Getty ImagesHe has built a combination with Cooper that thrives on running lines off the flyhalf’s shoulder, drawing attention from defenders that doesn’t rely on him getting the ball.

But the best example of Hunt’s new found confidence at Super Rugby level was the try he scored against the Kings.

With the Reds deep in the Kings 22, several forwards received the ball at standing starts and were unable to force their way over the line.

Fed up with the stagnant play, Hunt picked a hole between two defenders and took it on at full tilt, receiving the ball from James Tuttle and crashing over the line.

It’s plays like that and his ability to squeeze offloads out and create opportunities for teammates like he did in his days under Wayne Bennett at Red Hill that have him earmarked for national honours come June.

Those fearless runs early in his career are a thing of the past but they provide great insight into the mind of a man looking to make rugby the game he is remembered for.

“In my first year I was trying to step everyone and then after that, Wayne had a word to me and said to me that we should just get the ball back as far as we possibly can,” Hunt said.

“He didn’t tell me to go as crazy as I did but I took the direction in the sense that if you need as many yards as possible, the best way to do that is to run as hard as you possibly can.

“I think it used to inspire my teammates a little bit as well - I know Thorny used to tell me how much he loved to see it when I did that because he would get up for his next hit up and it started to become ingrained in how we played the game - we became really physical.”

The Reds host the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium tonight, kicking off at 7:45pm, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and