MELBOURNE, June 10 (Reuters) - Karmichael Hunt had two days to get to grips with Michael Cheika’s playbook at inside centre ahead of his Wallabies debut against Fiji but slotted into the role with aplomb in the 37-14 victory on Saturday.
A former rugby league international and top-flight Australian Rules footballer, Hunt has never been found wanting for versatility but the coach’s late directive had the 30-year-old’s head spinning on the day he was named in Cheika’s starting squad.
Hunt had spent the week learning the plays at fullback, but ended up having to cram like a schoolboy ill-prepared for end-of-term exams.
“I’d been training fullback all this week and I thought I’d got the plays down pat for my position and then Cheik taps me on the shoulder (and) tells me I‘m playing 12 and I thought, ‘Oh gee,'” Hunt said after the win at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
“My head started spinning but I managed to get my head around the plays and here we are now.”
Hunt’s elevation made him the second ‘triple code’ player in Cheika’s starting side, with fellow dual international Israel Folau having also played top-flight Australian Rules football.
It was a special moment for the pair, who were team mates at National Rugby League team Brisbane Broncos and also the Kangaroos at international level.
Each took a lucrative detour into the popular indigenous game, with Hunt playing four seasons for the Gold Coast Suns and Folau two with Greater Western Sydney in the Australian Football League.
It was a longer path for Hunt to break into the Wallabies, with his career in rugby union stalled by a cocaine possession charge which saw him suspended for six weeks by Super Rugby team Queensland Reds after his first game in 2015.
He was named in Cheika’s squad for the June internationals against England last year but was scratched from the series due to injury.
With inside centre Kurtley Beale rested for the June internationals and Samu Kerevi injured, Hunt was given his chance and grabbed it with both hands in a composed debut, defending fiercely and linking well with his team mates.
“He got a few carries, his defence was good and he was aggressive,” Cheika told reporters. “I think for his first outing he was pretty handy, you know?”
Folau also enjoyed a breakthrough of his own against Fiji, scoring a brace of tries to end a run of 11 matches without crossing since last year’s June series against England.
He was thrilled for Hunt to join him out on the field and play a big role in the win.
“I was definitely proud and excited for Karmichael when he got named in the team this week,” Folau told reporters.
”Obviously he’s gone through some challenges in the past so he definitely deserved the spot that he had in the team.
“I was just pumped to see him in the gold jersey this afternoon. To play alongside him again were some good memories.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)