Karmichael Hunt has no regrets switching codes to AFL.
Karmichael Hunt has no regrets switching codes to AFL.

Code switch backlash hurt Hunt deeply

As one of only two men to have played three professional footy codes in Australia, Karmichael Hunt has revealed the most important aspect of making a code switch is the relationship with the new coach.

Hunt and Israel Folau were widely criticised for taking big-money offers to play AFL from the NRL, and both eventually ended up in rugby.

For Hunt, who has revealed his ambition to become an NRL coach after retirement, the secret to his success at the Gold Coast Suns came when Ken Hinkley, now in charge of Port Adelaide, joined as assistant at the Suns.

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"Guy McKenna and I got along, but we didn't have the best relationship, I have to say it's true that I got on better with Kenny, he and Dean Solomon were the guys I leaned on the most and they were immense for me, both great coaches and good guys," Hunt said.

"The moment Kenny took me under his wing was the moment my AFL career started to blossom, I just formed a really good relationship with Ken and it's no wonder why he's coaching his teams to prelims and consistently getting them into finals, because he's a very well-liked, well-respected man who knows his football.

"One thing I respected about Kenny was there were no hang-ups about me being a convert or an outsider coming into the game, he just wanted to make the best AFL player I could possibly be.

Karmichael Hunt says Ken Hinkley made his transition to AFL a lot easier.
Karmichael Hunt says Ken Hinkley made his transition to AFL a lot easier.

"That was huge for me, because the transition wasn't easy, I was an outsider.

"Any transition, in my experience, whether you're going from league to AFL or league to union, or rugby to league, it's very important to make sure you have a good relationship with your head coach.

"The head coach is like, in most families, the father or mother figure, you need to have a good relationship with them in order to reach your full potential.

"It's super important especially for an outsider going to a foreign game, where you'll undoubtedly cop the criticism that myself and Izzy copped heading into AFL.

"So make sure you've got the coach on your side backing your transition.

"Everything else, from a technical standpoint, when it comes to working hard, making sure you're a good teammate, that you compete every day, that's all given in elite sport no matter what code you're playing in."

The toughest part of the switch from league to AFL for Hunt was the backlash from past players.

"There was more backlash than what I was expecting, they went hard at me, both from league and AFL," Hunt said.

"Everyone has an opinion and I was respectful of that, I knew what I was wanting to do, for me time just had to pass by and my work ethic and my motives would be shown in due course, which ended up happening.

"One of my biggest critics was Tony Shaw, he came out and apologised. There was a lot of talk that it was all about money. He'd said I was going to take off soon, but that wasn't the case."

Karmichael Hunt celebrates after kicking the winning goal after the siren against Richmond in 2012.
Karmichael Hunt celebrates after kicking the winning goal after the siren against Richmond in 2012.

Hunt has no regrets about his four-year stint in the AFL, though admits now that he was also better suited to the rugby codes.

"If I'm being honest, my body wasn't designed to play AFL," he said.

"If you turn the TV on now you're probably not going to see guys with my stature running around because there's so many kilometres and high-speed metres that need to be ticked off.

"I got myself to a decent level, I was able to stay fit for a good portion of that four years, but the body just started breaking down with recurring injuries. AFL is not like rugby league and rugby, where you can miss a couple of weeks and come straight back in.

"One thing I learned about AFL is it's really competitive from a list management and team selection point of view, unless you're performing at the top of your game your spot is up for grabs most weeks, you've got a really solid depth of players coming through.

"I love league, I grew up with the game.

"I also loved my time in the AFL, they were absolutely amazing my transition, (Suns recruitment officer) Scott Clayton and (chief executive) Travis Auld provided me with ample support.

"I'm going to play social footy up there with my brother-in-law (former Brisbane Lions star Scott Harding) after I retire, it's a great game."

 

Originally published as Code switch backlash hurt Hunt deeply