"The guy can play anywhere": Hunt's utility value rising at Waratahs

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Karmichael Hunt could be the answer in the Waratahs’ search for a new 13 to start the Super Rugby season, according to fellow NSW back Adam Ashley-Cooper.

The Waratahs will be looking for a round one replacement for Lalakai Foketi after he injured his hamstring in NSW’s 34-28 trial loss to the Brumbies, just his second game back from a stress fracture in his shin.

Hunt has shown positive form in NSW’s two trials, starting inside Foketi, and he has experience at 13 having played a handful of games for the Reds at outside centre in 2015.

The 32-year-old wouldn't be the only contender for the position  - Ashley-Cooper finished the game out at 13 in Goulburn on Thursday night and Curtis Rona played much of the 2018 season there - but the former was quick to point to Hunt as a possibility.

Lalakai Foketi will miss the start of the Super Rugby season. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyAsked what he felt about his own chances of a start at 13 next week, Ashley-Cooper was quick to point to Hunt as a strong contender for the spot.

“There's a few guys that can fill there. There's Karmichael, who's had a couple of good trial games. I think the guy can play anywhere, he's great,” he said.

“You saw him carry the ball today, he was very physical, put us over the gain line when it counted.

“Got Curtis Rona there who can fill in.

“Got a number of guys that can fill in, which is really pleasing, so absolutely.

“I think anyone's going to put their hand up for that spot but we'll just have to wait and see what kind of combination and that dynamic that Daryl wants to run for round one.”

Though Ashley-Cooper has only had a fortnight of training sessions and 10 minutes of game time with Hunt, he had plenty of praise for his new teammate post-match.

“(He’s a) great player, for anyone to play three codes and be a dual international, you've got to be pretty special,” he said.

“It's exciting for me if I pair up with him, someone of that calibre, but hopefully I get to spend a bit more time with him.

"I'm really excited to see what he can do this year for the Waratahs, he's going to contribute in big ways.”

Adam Ashley-Cooper made his Waratahs return on Thursday night. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyCoach Daryl Gibson was satisfied with the outing from his two final 2019 recruits in Ashley-Cooper and Hunt, who have given him food for thought when it comes to round one picks.

“(Ashey-Cooper) brings that calmness to our backline particularly in defence, that experience and that's the reason we got him back and he showed that tonight and steadied the ship,” he said.

“(Hunt) is bringing what we expect him to. Steely determination, good ball carries, tough in defence and I'm really happy with his progress and where he's at.”

The Waratahs were missing eight Test players - Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu and Tolu Latu - in the clash, all of whom are expected to return for Saturday’s round one encounter with the Hurricanes.

While there are still question marks hanging over the depth of their pack, their backline proved it goes far beyond those stars, with young flyhalf/fullback Will Harrison slotting in well, and Ashley-Cooper said that was an exciting prospect with the group set to return.

“I think the guys here have set up a really good platform for this team and they're in really good shape to start the season,” he said.

“There's been some really good efforts from a lot of younger guys, so that only really lifts the Wallabies that are set to return because when these guys are coming back, there's a standard that's been set, so they're going to come back and have to really pick up.”

The Waratahs take on the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval on Saturday February 17, kicking off at 7:45pm, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.