Karmichael Hunt says the quickest way for him to get back into the good books of Queensland Reds supporters is contributing to a winning side.
With his six-week suspension for cocaine possession completed, Hunt will make his Super Rugby return off the bench on Friday night when the struggling Reds (1-5) play the Melbourne Rebels (2-4) at AAMI Park.
The 28-year-old’s image took a battering when he became embroiled in Queensland sport’s cocaine scandal and he knows he must work hard to regain the trust of fans and sponsors.
Hunt said it was on the field where he would seek to redeem himself.
“Absolutely. And I want to play good rugby for myself, too,” Hunt said on Thursday.
“Sitting out obviously has been disappointing for a lot of people but mostly myself, because it’s not where I want to be.
“I’m excited to be playing the sport I played as a kid and overseas and looking forward to hitting the ground running, building some games and some form.”
Hunt has been back training with his teammates for two weeks but was unable to unseat Lachie Turner, who retains the number 15 jersey this week.
The Reds made three changes to their starting side with Liam Gill, Greg Holmes and Chris Feauai-Sautia in for Curtis Browning, Sam Talakai and Chris Kuridrani.
Kuridrani and Browning have been named as reserves while Talakai has dropped out of Queensland’s match squad.
Flanker Gill returns from a two-week suspension for his up-ending, wrestling-style throw tackle on Brumbies halfback Nic White and he indicated White’s small stature contributed to the illegal move.
“It was a silly thing that eventuated, I was happy to take the penalty,” Gill said.
“I’ve copped a lot over it.
“I’ve done that technique a million times and it’s resulted in a roll, I just had a halfback in there at that point in time.”
Friday’s game is a must-win for the struggling Reds and, after naming a near full-strength side featuring 13 players with Test experience, there are no longer any reasons for under-performance.
After falling 18-17 to the Lions last week at home and ahead of a three-week tour of Melbourne and South Africa, Gill said it was only a “matter of time” until the Reds clicked.
“We know it’ll happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
“The players coming back aren’t new to the squad, they’re established players that have played 100 caps for our team.
“They understand what they have to do – it’s just that awkward stage, hopefully it lasts a week if that.”
Reds (15-1): Lachie Turner, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Anthony Fainga’a, James O’Connor, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Adam Thomson, James Horwill, Dave McDuling, Greg Holmes, James Hanson, James Slipper (capt) Res: Ben Daley, Saia Fainga’a, Sef Faagase, Marco Kotze, Curtis Browning, Nick Frisby, Chris Kuridrani, Karmichael Hunt.