AFL will rue Hunt switch while NRL marches on

Matthew ONeill Roar Rookie

By Matthew ONeill, Matthew ONeill is a Roar Rookie

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    Queenslanders Scott Prince (left) and Karmichael Hunt (centre) embrace after the final whistle of the NRL State of Origin match between Queensland and New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, June 11, 2008. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

    Queenslanders Scott Prince (left) and Karmichael Hunt (centre) embrace after the final whistle of the NRL State of Origin match between Queensland and New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, June 11, 2008. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

    It was described as a coup, the “biggest shot” fired yet in AFL’s battle with the NRL. If so, that shot fired by the AFL – its signing of Karmichael Hunt – was a shot fired at its own foot.

    Despite hysterical reporting that Hunt’s switch from rugby league to the Victorian game is cause for concern for the NRL, it’s the AFL that should be most worried. In Hunt, the AFL inherits huge risk – on and off-the-field – with few likely benefits, while recent history shows the NRL marches on from player defections.

    Gold Coast AFL officials were quick to say Hunt hadn’t been signed as a publicity stunt. Hopefully that’s true, because if Hunt was signed to create buzz for the new franchise and generate more support, the AFL has chosen the wrong player.

    The risk for the AFL in signing Hunt was best summed up by Andrew Webster

    in the Daily Telegraph. Hunt was involved in a major off-field incident last year, along with Sam Thaiday and Darius Boyd, which derailed the Broncos finals campaign. He was also part of the Queensland squad embroiled in drug-taking dramas before State of Origin 3.

    Hunt has had a reputation for being a party boy of Brisbane. Considering Andrew Demetriou’s recent attempt to claim the moral high-ground over rugby league’s handling of on-field violence, his willingness to sign a player with considerable poor off-field form looks pretty strange.

    Look at the contrast. Gold Coast’s new rugby league franchise – the Titans – first signed players were Preston Campbell and Scott Prince – two players at the top of their games, and who the public relate to and trust. Campbell and Prince have since proved themselves to be outstanding citizens and family-orientated people, and set the standard for the new club.

    Gold Coast Titans CEO Michael Searle confirmed their impact: “The first person we recruited was Preston Campbell, and as soon as you say that, you set the culture for the club. What has this recruitment done – when, no offence to Karmichael, but they concentrate their recruitment on a gun for hire, a mercenary.”

    In Australia’s cut-throat sporting market, positive players such as Campbell and Price are like gold, and crucial to rugby league success – and hopefully AFL’s demise – on the Gold Coast.

    At the moment Hunt is rated below fullbacks Brett Stewart, Billy Slater, Jarryd Hayne and Kurt Gidley. As a crowd-pleaser he is perhaps behind Campbell, Matt Bowen, and the returning Anthony Minichiello. In terms of commitment and whole-heartedness, he falls behind elusive Kiwi Sam Perrett and Luke Patten, a player getting better with age.

    So who should the AFL have targeted? Rugby League and AFL are completely different sports – for those that call the latter a sport – and demand different skill sets. The two rugby league players best suited to the AFL game are Darren Lockyer and Jamie Soward. Both players glide around the field, have a sharp kicking game and solid hands. They would thrive in the mid-field. Lockyer played AFL as a youngster and former rugby league coach Phil Gould believes Soward to be the most similar to Lockyer, but with added acting ability.

    Hunt will have to get used to lower standards in the AFL. Fortunately for many AFL players, you don’t have to fully catch the ball when taking a mark in the southern code (unlike taking catches in cricket).

    Players who you miss the goal target are also rewarded with a point – something not available to league goalkickers such as Hazem El Masri and Johnathan Thurston.

    I’m not an avid AFL watcher, but of all the players I’ve seen the one that most resembled a rugby league player was former Sydney Swans captain Paul Kelly. It’s no surprise to know he played both sports in his younger days in the Riverina.

    Hailing from the same town as Kelly was former Canterbury and Australian Test fullback Greg Brentnall. Brentnall – who was close to the famous Mortimers – was actively courted by two VFL clubs before deciding to join Canterbury in 1977.

    Brentnall’s style as a rugby league player offered glimpses of the Victorian game. It was clear he used skills gained playing Aussie Rules during his league career. Brentnall possessed the best kicking game in his era, and was the first kicker to experiment with the banana kick. He was also a fantastic jumper for the ball.

    Commenting on Hunt, Brentnall said, “It’s a huge risk. AFL’s changed a lot from when I was involved. It’s certainly a lot more sanitised, it’s a possession game. That’s where it’s a bit more of a risk because of the kicking skills in particular.

    “Whilst our kicking skills have evolved over the last 10 years or so, they have to hit a target every time. When I was playing AFL you’d kick to a contest, but now you’ve got to kick to a target. You can’t just kick to a contest because the game is so much about possession.

    “He’s got the attributes that would indicate he’s got what it takes to make the level, but I don’t know whether I’d be hanging my hat on him, and building the club around him.”

    NRL CEO David Gallop described Hunt’s decision to join AFL as a personal one, and not a reflection on the game. He would never say so publicly, but he is probably happy Hunt is going. In his article Webster suggested the Broncos too would be relieved to see the back of an off-field headache.

    Gold Coast Titans CEO Michael Searle was scathing, but accurate, in his analysis of the signing. “It reeks of desperation if you’ve got to recruit a rugby league player to play AFL.

    “Now the monster’s out of the bag, they’re not going to be able to put it back in, and they’ve paid top dollar to do it. It’s the worst decision they could have made. Rest assured, the Gold Coast region won’t tolerate a circus.”

    “It could be the most expensive media stunt in the history of sport. If the AFL have got to recruit rugby league players, geez they’re in trouble.”

    Worse still for the AFL, its expensive publicity will barely affect the NRL. Hunt may attract certain supporter elements to AFL, but the NRL wont shed a tear about that.

    Rugby league has also shown itself to be resilient to raids from other codes. Despite the ARU’s raid on rugby league in 2001-02, most of those players have found their way back to rugby league and it has widely been reported rugby union paid a heavy financial price for little value.

    Some credit must go to Hunt who unlike Willie Mason – who has talked endlessly about switches to boxing, rugby union and NFL – has followed through.

    But the desire of the man – who the AFL is building its Gold Coast franchise dreams on – to play so many different codes in such a short period of time brings its own set of problems for the AFL.

    After rugby league and rugby union in 2010 and AFL in 2011, what will be next for Karmichael Hunt?

    In Edition 16 of Discord this week, weekly feature columnist Steve Mascord says the ARL must act tough against clubs that won’t make players available for Test selection, he looks at rule changes to govern on-field fights, touches on Karmichael Hunt’s code switch and signs off with a crack at the RLIF’s planning ability. You can read Discord by clicking here. Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (137)

    • Roar Guru

      July 31st 2009 @ 10:29am
      MyGeneration said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Pity about the cheap shots, Matthew. There were some good points in there about the different skill-sets, and I think it is valid to question Hunt’s commitment. Snarky comments about whether AFL is a sport don’t help your credibility, however.

    • July 31st 2009 @ 10:35am
      Robbo said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      i have it on good authority holdsworth is being seriously looked at as the next nrl player to be poached by the afl.

      has excellent skills in bouncing the ball developed over many years of dropping the ball and in afl he will be allowed to pick it up and play on, has no idea how to tackle one on one as do the vast majority of afl players and excels at kicking the ball to the opposing fullback/wingers so he should have no problem kicking to his team mates in afl. plus if he misses the target he will still get a point hahahaha.

      • Roar Guru

        July 31st 2009 @ 11:00am
        Redb said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:00am | ! Report


        Robbo’s comment is hardly any better.

        The article set the tone.


        • July 31st 2009 @ 11:05am
          Robbos said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          let’s not confuse Robbo with Robbos, Redb.

          • Roar Guru

            July 31st 2009 @ 11:25am
            Redb said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            I wasn’t, the grammar is correct.

          • Roar Guru

            July 31st 2009 @ 11:40am
            Pippinu said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:40am | ! Report

            peas out of the same pod!! 🙂

            • July 31st 2009 @ 2:18pm
              Robbos said | July 31st 2009 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

              Thanks Pip. I didn’t know there was a rule that that you had to like AFL. Oh that’s right, it’s un-Australian not to

        • July 31st 2009 @ 11:56am
          Michael C said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          Although – for this ‘Robbo’ guy – – I could see the fellow he describes playing :

          A. at Richmond, (any time)

          B. at West Coast (currently – whilst seemingly ‘tanking’)

          – – – –

          I still love the lack of thought behind the old “1 point for missing”.

          after all, what do you get for a try in RL? 4 pts.

          So, if you MISS the kick for goal – – you still get 4 pts.

          4 pts for missing in Rugby League. Not bad…….not bad at all.

          • July 31st 2009 @ 2:56pm
            macavity said | July 31st 2009 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

            you sort of miss the point that scoring a try is actually quite hard, while the kick at goal is the easy bit.

            on topic, dont mind Matty, he is a special boy.

    • July 31st 2009 @ 10:37am
      collin said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      AHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA even nrls own players think nrl is a wank, and indeed it is one. shoulda joined carlton fc but owell at least now all the afl lovers can again laugh at that garbage they play up in sydney

      • Roar Guru

        July 31st 2009 @ 10:46am
        MyGeneration said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Talk about cheap shots! Get back in your hole, collin!

    • July 31st 2009 @ 10:45am
      Tom said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      You make some good points, Matthew. Particularly about the AFL picking as its poster boy a player with a blemished record off the field.

      But its hard to take you seriously when your bitterness towards AFL seeps through in every second line.

      “Hunt will have to get used to lower standards in the AFL”. Oh please.

    • Roar Guru

      July 31st 2009 @ 10:45am
      Pippinu said | July 31st 2009 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      I agree with MyGen – this is a fascinating topic – with a million possible perspectives – which can all be made without cheap shots and snide remarks – honestly folks, we just don’t need it (especially here on the Roar).

      There certainly are people on the AFL side putting forward the viewpoint that this isn’t necessarily a good look for the AFL: paying a large sum of money for an untried player (which is precisely what Hunt is).

      It’s possible to make these sorts of points, and to discuss the differences that Hunt will encounter (and obviously, they are many), without jumping to conclusions about the merit or otherwise of either game.

      It’s really very simply folks – all four codes are tough to master at the elite level – it’s not a difficult concept to comprehend.

    • July 31st 2009 @ 11:26am
      oikee said | July 31st 2009 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Look i wish to make a point, AFL has expanded to their limits after these 2 new clubs take hold. League on the other hand is only starting to expand, they have touched their toes into Perth and the people like what they see,
      besides this, the game does not need 50 thousand every week to make it profitable. Aussie Rules on the other hand are at their last frontier with 2 teams for each city with the likelyhood of clubs struggling to make amends. League is international with a 10 year plan which includes 2 world cups within this time. Aussie rules will still be struggling with 2 new teams for the next 20 years, where’s the sense.?

      Reply:-, ‘oh’ in 20 years time we will be the biggest code in OZ, “no you wont”, soccer will be, they have a international game that attracks 10x billions into their sport.

      Hunt will do well at aussie rules, prediction he takes the mark of the year when he arrives. But if he succeeds, then aussie rules will suffer. Just another pathway for league players to enjoy. Take a leaf out of Union books, you cant get rid of league trying to buy talent, we have bucket loads waiting for a shot. Unfortunately AFL has run out of stars, buying league players now.? Once league starts to develop players down south, they will have plenty more. I have just read a story about a young AFL player who is soon to be the 1st Victorian to play for the Storm. And he is followed by plenty others.

      League’s 100 year hurdle== banned and assests stripped from France ,,,, banned in Sth Africa until 14 years ago,,,,,,banned from expanding world-wide in the Armed Forces by Brithish Government,,,,media ban in UK until recently.

      Private school banning which still exsists, and many other stories attached to league, Australia is the reason this game continues to thrive, if you think Aussie rules is a challenge for league, man you came into the fight when the boxers had left the areana.

      • Roar Guru

        July 31st 2009 @ 12:09pm
        Redb said | July 31st 2009 @ 12:09pm | ! Report


        The old VFL was in real trouble only 20 years ago. Infighting, very poor expansion decisions and planning – see Brisbane Bears. A litany of poor decisions to grow the game, the AFL has only started to get it right in the last 5-6 years IMO with programs like Auskick, grass roots development, etc.

        This is not about weakening rugby league for the sake of it. Think big picture and the massive exposure this has generated for the AFL in QLD.

        The AFL is not rugby union in this country – we have 585,000 club members and whopping crowd figures and TV ratings in our traditional areas. We have a well funded competition that is well run.

        Whatever union’s motivations – your two codes have been fighting a code war for a hundred years it has nothing to do with the AFL.

        For AFL fans , the new Gold Coast club has put itself on the map, it’s 2011 debut with Karmichael Hunt will get a big crowd, a big TV audience, publicity for a fledging club money can’t buy, even if zero diehard RL fans tune in.


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