Hunt to lead Waratahs against Highlanders
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Karmichael Hunt is happy to take on more responsibility as he prepares to lead the Waratahs after his first “decent” Super Rugby pre-season in several years.
With several senior backs having left the Waratahs, including Wallabies Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Curtis Rona, Hunt will inevitably assume more of a leadership role this season.
“In terms of my age and experience and being a bit older than the other guys, it’s sort of been a natural progression,” said Hunt who will captain against the Highlanders on Friday at Leichhardt Oval.
Hunt appreciated the faith being shown in him after acknowledging some self-inflicted off-field blows, which included receiving fines and suspensions after pleading guilty to drug possession charges in 2015 and 2018.
“I’ve done a lot of hard yards. I’ve had a few downfalls over the years of my own accord which has been well documented,” he said.
“But I’ve got off the deck and just try and continue to get better as a footy player and as a person.”
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) January 16, 2020
The six-Test Wallabies’ back suffered a medial ligament knee injury last May which cut short his impressive first Super Rugby campaign with the Waratahs and effectively cruelled any World Cup aspirations.
He played some Sydney club rugby but was rested from the NRC. The extra rehab has put him in fine fettle for the coming season.
“It was like pre-season on top of a pre-season. It was worthwhile – I feel great,” Hunt said.
“There’s no issue with the knee. Conditioning-wise, I’m back to full fitness.
“It’s probably the first decent pre-season I’ve had in a few years, having missed out in Queensland [before the 2018 season].
“Rolling into the Tahs after Christmas , a couple of weeks before the  season started, I didn’t have the greatest base, obviously.”
Despite the exodus of experienced players, which also included Wallabies front-rowers Tolu Latu and Sekope Kepu, Hunt is optimistic about the Tahs’ prospects under new coach Rob Penney.
“We’ve lost a lot of experience but it’s an exciting horizon, I think for us,” Hunt said.
“With Rob bringing in a new game plan for us to utilise and put a bit more trust back into the boys to play what they see.”
Although capable of playing multiple positions including fullback, Hunt is set to play primarily at inside centre, where he had spent most of last season.
“All my footy has been training at 12. There’s been no discussions otherwise,” Hunt said.
Hunt, halfback Jake Gordon and prop Tom Robertson are the only Wallabies picked to face the Highlanders, while former Parramatta NRL forward Tepei Moeroa’s debut will be delayed as he is sick.
Waratahs: 15 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt (captain), 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Charlie Gamble, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ryan McCauley, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements – from: Damien Fitzpatrick, Tetera Faulkner, Pat Tafa, Will Harris, Carlo Tizzano, Rory O’Connor, Nick Champion De Crespigny, Angus Bell, Andrew Tuala, Chris Talakai, James Ramm, Joey Walton, Mitch Short, Will Harrison, Ben Donaldson, Triston Reilly, Michael McDonal.
Date: Friday, January 17
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Kick-off: 18.45 (07.45 GMT; 20.45 NZ time)
Referees: Graham Cooper (Australia)
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett (Australia), James Quinn (Australia)