Mystery surrounds Queensland’s positional plans for Karmichael Hunt after he was named to start the Reds’ first pre-season trial at fullback, setting up a likely battle with Japanese World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru for a spot in the team.
Coach Richard Graham says he is only thinking of Hunt as a fullback and hasn’t conjured up another position for star recruit Goromaru, a specialist No.15 who is a certainty to squeeze out the code-hopper as soon as he is ready to play.
A former rugby league Test custodian, Hunt, 29, came into his own as a fullback for Brisbane City during last year’s National Rugby Championship and has trained the entire pre-season in the position.
But unless Hunt can hold out ace goalkicker Goromaru, who will watch Saturday’s pre-season trial against the Crusaders from the Ballymore stands, a season as a bench utility likely awaits.
“That position at fullback suits him,” Graham said of Hunt.
“He’s a really good communicator, he talks forward, and the boys get a lot of confidence out of having him behind them.
“In terms of Ayumu, there’s no doubt he’s a quality footballer, he’s done it on the world stage.
“I’ll make that decision when he arrives, have a look at him physically, how he’s handled the World Cup and also the Japanese season, and then how he comes into the squad and how quickly he picks things up.”
Asked if he would consider Hunt at inside centre, a position Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes he is best suited to, Graham said: “At this point I’m not closed-minded to anything, but he’s trained the whole pre-season at 15 and my intention is to play him this weekend at 15 and keep looking as we go forward.
“I haven’t looked forward to next weekend (final trial) against the Brumbies at this stage.”
Hunt has barely had the chance to settle on a position since switching from the AFL’s Gold Coast to the Reds at the end of 2014.
He only made nine Super Rugby appearances last year due to injury and his cocaine suspension, spending time at fullback, in the centres and even at flyhalf.
Graham intends to rifle through his 30-man squad, laden with fresh faces, on Saturday and give every player a chance.
Unheralded halves pairing Jake McIntyre and Nick Frisby have been handed first crack at succeeding Cooper and Genia, while there are 10 players set to make their first appearances in a Queensland jersey, including boom prop Taniela Tupou – better known as the Tongan Thor – who will come off the bench.
“He’s dangerous, that’s for sure,” said stand-in skipper Rob Simmons, deputising for the injured James Slipper.
“Over the past four weeks I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff from some of these young fellas.
“They’ve definitely got some X-factor. Now we need to harness that and put it into the gameplan.”
Queensland Reds: Karmichael Hunt, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Henry Taefu, Eto Nabuli, Jake McIntyre, Nick Frisby, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Lolo Fakaosilea, Rob Simmons (capt), Caderyn Neville, Sam Talakai, Andrew Ready, Ben Daley. Res: Saia Fainga’a, Sef Fa’agase, Taniela Tupou, Ben Matwijow, Lukhan Tui, Curtis Browning, Maclean Jones, Michael Gunn, James Tuttle, Mack Mason, Chris Kuridrani, Duncan Paia’aua, Campbell Magnay, Alex Gibbon, Sam Greene.