If Karmichael Hunt isn’t a bona fide AFL player now, he will be soon, says his Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna.
Much maligned for the size of his pay packet, compared to his ability when he switched from rugby league, Hunt produced his best performance on Saturday in his third season at the Suns.
Hunt combined brute strength and good touch against North Melbourne, more than holding his own in the midfield to silence those who thought the former Brisbane NRL fullback would be an expensive code-swap flop.
It is the 25-year-old’s second excellent performance in the Suns’ past three matches.
Instead of queuing up to whack him, AFL identities are praising and respecting him.
Former Richmond great Matthew Richardson and ex-Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse were among those echoing North coach Brad Scott’s comments after Hunt’s 16-possession performance in the Suns’ loss to the Kangaroos on Saturday.
“Anyone who has criticised Karmichael Hunt over the journey should be eating their words and should be apologising to him because, on that performance, he’s a bona fide AFL midfielder,” Scott said.
McKenna cautioned Hunt still had work to do, but had come a long way since linking with the Suns midway through their 2010 VFL season and looking a fish out of water in his AFL debut last year.
“He’s an amazing person – a very driven person. He knows he was probably 600th or 700th player in the (AFL) list, probably our 50th player at one stage too,” McKenna told the Seven Network’s AFL Game Day on Sunday.
“But he’s fought his way into our midfield.
“We talk about the blink factor – how tough it is in there – he just doesn’t blink.
“He’s gone to another level. I don’t know (if he’s) bona fide – give him another one or two years and we can say bona fide.”
Hunt, who was added to the Suns’ leadership group at the start of this season, has also shown the most prized of traits in modern AFL – versatility.
He has proved himself able to play either in defence, tackle strongly and gather contested ball in midfield, or perform around the clearances.
McKenna, whose Suns remain winless despite pushing Essendon and North in recent weeks, says he’s comfortable with where his own contract discussions sit.
McKenna’s deal expires at the end of the season, with Gold Coast’s board set to decide later in the year on their inaugural coach’s future.
“The development and the improvement in the list and our performances,” McKenna said when asked how the board indicated it would assess whether to offer him a new contract.
“I would think any board in the country would do the same.
“So I’m not offended by it, I’m not taken aback by it, I’m welcoming it because it’s going to improve me and it’s going to improve our footy club.”