Rugby league now a legitimate AFL recruiting ground

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Code-hopper Karmichael Hunt lays another tackle against Fremantle (Slattery Images)

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Karmichael Hunt’s form of late has silenced plenty of doubters. Oddly, those that guaranteed us he’d fail are suddenly nowhere to be found.

He now looks like an actual footballer out on the field and is using his considerable presence to Gold Coast’s advantage by laying tackles and damaging, yet legal, bumps.

Former Hawthorn champion Dermott Brereton says he’s the most feared player on the Gold Coast list. It’s hard to disagree.

That role was originally designated to Campbell Brown, a premiership player no less, but in just his second season Hunt has taken over and made it his own.

But this isn’t just a story about a big body throwing his weight around. Karmichael is winning his own footy – reaching 20 disposals in two of his past three games – and creating – he averages 2.3 inside 50s a game.

Sure, these numbers could be better. But I’ve always looked at Hunt for what he actually is, not what the size of his pay packet is.

And as someone in just his third season of playing the game at any level, those numbers are eerily comparable to the first six games of Jim Stynes in 1988, his third season in Melbourne and second at AFL level.

The final part of Hunt’s game which has been so noticeable is how he manages to lift his teammates. It’s obvious they have great affection for him and it seems whenever he pulls off a big play – like that bump on Angus Monfries against Essendon – it adds to the confidence of the whole playing group.

All of this led to me asking a peculiar question over the weekend: are there other AFL clubs that could use a Karmichael Hunt?

After a bit of thought, the answer was yes.

With taggers back in vogue this season, those that can physically intimidate are even more of a sought-after commodity right now. Surely there a number of clubs who wouldn’t mind a hard man to throw in the midfield to ensure opponents don’t get an easy run at it.

Sides in the middle of their premiership window might have other priorities than developing a player from a non-football background, but there are plenty who could use a Hunt-type player.

After all, while the Suns aren’t the best team around, it remains that they are a better team with Hunt playing than they are with him on the sidelines. That’s the true sign that he’s bringing something to the table.

The AFL’s days of poaching big name rugby league players, at this stage, seem over. It was a unique set of circumstances that led to Hunt going to the Suns and Israel Folau heading to the GWS Giants, and both moves would never have happened had the AFL not stumped up the cash it did.

However, it might prove to be the case that fringe NRL players identified as suitable for a switch become the target of AFL clubs.

It might be that if Folau does not re-sign with the Giants at the end of his current contract, the temptation for the AFL to become involved may again re-emerge.

Also, players lingering below the NRL level might be willing to jump at the chance to land an AFL contract.

The latter situation would seem to be the most likely. This already happens in basketball with players struggling to land an NBL contract and it definitely helps that players without recent Aussie Rules experience can be signed as an extra rookie.

Some would no doubt use this happening as an argument for how “AFL’s such an easy game to play”. But those people would be showing enormous disregard for the work Karmichael Hunt has done just to get to this point.

The message here isn’t that’s it’s easy, but rather that it’s possible. And there can be significant rewards at the end of it.

One thing’s for sure, though: if what Karmichael Hunt is bringing to the Gold Coast Suns continues, rugby league players can absolutely be considered a legitimate recruiting option.

Publicity stunt? Not anymore.

Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio

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