Karmichael Hunt says he is keen to step up as a mentor in the Waratahs’ young squad in his 15th year as a professional footballer, and predicts new coach Rob Penney will be a perfect “father figure” for the baby sky blues.
After a lengthy negotiation, Hunt re-signed with the Waratahs on Monday for another season and the 33-year-old returned to full training this week after sitting out the NRC with a knee injury.
Penney, who took over from the departed Daryl Gibson, is due to arrive on Thursday after finishing up his commitments in Japan but already the Waratahs have a distinctly different look at their Pagewood headquarters.
Gone are a host of senior players, including Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Curtis Rona and Tolu Latu, and on deck are are a number of rising stars from the Junior Wallabies and club rugby.
Hunt said the lack of experience in the Waratahs squad for 2020 was a factor in their shared desire for the veteran playmaker to return for a second season.
"Negotiations have been going on for a while. There was a pretty clear understanding I would probably be here for the 2020 season a few months back but to finally have it signed off and being able to get stuck back into training yesterday and today, and moving forward with the boys to Christmas, it’s a wonderful privilege and I am looking forward again to playing in the sky blue,” Hunt said.
"Obviously there is a young group here that needs some leaders, with the vacuum of players who have left to go overseas. So my experience and my ability, the family are loving it in Bowral, there are plenty of positives for me to hang around and help out in what is a pretty important transition period for the club."
Hunt was once one of those fresh-faced kids, having begun his professional career as an 18-year-old with the Brisbane Broncos.
He is now Australian rugby most's experienced player and Hunt said it was imperative he - and other internationals in the Waratahs squad - now step up as leaders to help bring through the best young talent in NSW.
"Because it is a very young team, that’s one thing I have noticed,” Hunt said.
"But in saying that it’s a great opportunity for them to step up. As leaders, it’s up to us to help nurture that drive to want to pull on that jersey next year and that starts with competition at training and direction and obviously accountability.
"And those are things I know myself, ‘Hoops', ‘KB' and ‘Simmo' are really looking forward to driving in the pre-season.”
Hunt said he was looking forward to building a personal rapport with Penney, having only spoken on the phone so far.
"From all reports from people I know outside the club that know him, or know his resume, that he is the most equipped coach to take on this role, especially with the new transition period we are going through with young players,” Hunt said.
"A lot of people have the opinion he is going to be a great father figure for the kids. But in saying that, he is going to bring that accountability and some of that New Zealand IP, which is obviously some of the best in the world.”
Hunt said the Waratahs were far too inconsistent on the field in the 2019 season, but pointed to off-field issues like Israel Folau’s sacking and the World Cup resting policy as destabilising factors.
"It was a pretty tumultuous year, both on and off the field, and I don’t think you can discount the effects that can have on a change room,” Hunt said.
"But at the end of the day you have to go out there and perform and I think our best football … wasn’t seen enough. There wasn’t enough consistent football played week-in, week-out, and whether or not factors such as resting players for the World Cup, and the continuity for the line-ups, whether that had an effect, I am not sure.
"I am sure the coaching staff have had a look at it but I am sure they are also keen to move on and get down to work."