Karmichael Hunt’s groin could ruin what looms as a marketer’s dream for the Queensland Reds when they host Japan’s Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves this weekend on their first visit to Australia.
Reds’ first-choice fullback Hunt is in doubt for the clash on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, with Japan’s World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru in line to take his spot and play against several of his Test teammates.
Hunt missed Queensland’s 29-14 loss to the Hurricanes on the weekend due to a groin strain, but is thought to be a good chance of overcoming the injury in time to face the Sunwolves.
If he does, it’s unclear what it will mean for Goromaru, after playing the full 80 minutes in Hunt’s absence against the Hurricanes.
The 30-year-old has struggled for game time at the Reds, spending most of the season to date on the bench.
But two weeks ago, he was left out of Queensland’s match-day squad, with interim co-coach Matt O’Connor claiming the Reds had a better balance of reserve players without the specialist fullback.
“We’re still waiting on Karmichael’s injury to see if he’s fit,” captain James Slipper said on Tuesday.
“I thought Goro did an exceptional job last weekend … but we’re extremely confident in either player.”
The Reds will name their team on Thursday afternoon.
There is already massive interest from Japan in Saturday’s match, but that will skyrocket if Goromaru is handed a start alongside fellow Japanese Test star Hendrik Tui, who has been one of Queensland’s best-performed players this season.
The Reds have sold thousands of jerseys and memberships to Japanese fans off the back of Goromaru’s immense popularity, while there have been Japanese reporters stationed in Brisbane for months, tracking his every move.
It comes amid reports that Goromaru is set to leave the Reds at the end of the season to sign a rich one-year contract with French glamour club Toulon, which could be confirmed by the end of the month.
The Reds will be expected to book their third win of the season against the Sunwolves, who have just one victory in their debut Super Rugby season.
But after drawing 17-17 with the Stormers at the weekend, Slipper believes they are a better team than their ladder position indicates.
“They haven’t won too many games but I think they’ve been competitive in quite a few,” he said.