AFL 3 years ago

Dear AFL: Stop Trying To Convert Rugby Players

  • Dear AFL: Stop Trying To Convert Rugby Players

When the AFL and Gold Coast Football Club persuaded 23-year-old NRL player Karmichael Hunt to swap codes in 2009, nobody could've predicted the cocaine scandal that would eventually hit the club.

Hunt returned to rugby at the end of 2014, but has since pleaded guilty to using cocaine. He has also implicated about a dozen of his former AFL teammates in drug use.

Ironically, this unfolding scandal has distracted from the first issue with Hunt's recruitment: He was rubbish at Aussie Rules.

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Like rugby player Israel Folau, who spent two seasons with the GWS Giants (one in the NEAFL), Hunt never found his feet in the southern code.

Sportsmen from other disciplines have successfully transitioned - such as former steeplechaser Mark Biclavs, junior cricket captain Simon Goodwin, and junior basketballer Kurt Tippett.

Many Gaelic footballers have found AFL success; a few have been outright champions.

Notably, last week's Rising Star nominee - Charlie Cameron - was a rugby player in his junior days.

Yet the evidence suggests that fully-formed rugby players do not make good AFL players, whether due to body type or skill set.

Of course, most spectators understand that the AFL recruited Hunt and Folau as walking, talking media stunts.

The pair was supposed to provide a "bridge" for Queensland and News South Welsh rugby fans to start paying attention to AFL. Actual playing ability was incidental. 

Unfortunately, the side-effect in Hunt's case was the destruction of a potentially incredible sporting career.

Hunt was 23 when he began playing AFL and 28 when he finished. He wasted his physical prime in the wrong sport.

That's worth repeating: A potential superstar of rugby league gave it up for the sake of five mediocre years in the AFL.

Hunt also says the stress of swapping codes drove him to use cocaine.

Indirectly, the AFL's ill-fated plan of converting rugby players led to the problems that are now engulfing the Gold Coast Suns.

Nobody in 2009 could've predicted the cocaine scandal - although perhaps Hunt's lacklustre on-field performances should've seen him cut off earlier than 2014.

But overall, maybe this can be a wake-up call that converting rugby players to AFL simply isn't worth it.

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