Former NRL star Karmichael Hunt is among five uncapped players named by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika in a 22-man preliminary train-on squad for the opening round of the Rugby Championship.
All of the players named on Sunday are from teams not involved in the upcoming Super Rugby finals, with Hunt joining Reds teammate and centre Samu Kerevi, Melbourne Rebels props Paul Alo-Emile and Toby Smith along with Western Force lock Adam Coleman as the uncapped players in the squad.
Australia begin their Rugby Championship campaign against South Africa in Brisbane on July 18 as the Wallabies begin the countdown to the World Cup in September-October.
Utility Hunt’s inclusion comes after a turbulent season off the field for the code-hopper who has a shot at becoming a dual international after playing rugby league for Australia.
In March, the 28-year-old was given a back-dated six-week ban and fined $30,000 by the ARU and QRU after he pleaded guilty to four counts of cocaine possession in the Southport Magistrates Court where he copped a $2500 and escaped a conviction.
The Reds have the strongest representation with 12 players, including veterans Will Genia and James Horwill, while James O’Connor, who suffered a groin injury in Saturday night’s loss to NSW, has also been named.
The Rebels and Force have five players apiece with crowd-pleasing winger Nick Cummins among those from the Perth-based side.
Selected players will assemble in Brisbane from Monday 22 June and train out of Ballymore, before their first official camp on July 5 in Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Additional players from the Brumbies and NSW Waratahs will be confirmed at the end of their respective Super Rugby seasons.
Cheika has also given overseas-based players some extra time off, indicating they will join the squad after the Super Rugby final in three weeks.
The Wallabies mentor has spoken to European-based stars Matt Giteau, George Smith and Drew Mitchell and they have all indicated they are available from the outset of the Rugby Championship.
“They’ll be considered for selection for the first game. They’ve just finished seasons over there – they don’t need to come back now. If they were to come back … if they were selected, they’d be coming back after the Super Rugby final when the full team comes together,” Cheika said.
Wallabies train-on squad: Paul Alo-Emile, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Jones, Sean McMahon, Toby Smith, Quade Cooper, Saia Faingaa, Will Genia, Liam Gill, James Hanson, James Horwill, Greg Holmes, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, James O’Connor, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Adam Coleman, Nick Cummins, Tetera Faulkner, Ben McCalman, Matt Hodgson.