The Mick Malthouse-Nathan Buckley arranged Collingwood marriage was at 10.30 this morning very much yesterday’s news as the AFL now welcomes on board its newest and arguably most historic recruit.
In a year in which the NRL has been reeling from one shock to the next, here’s another seismic event it could not have possibly foreseen when Brisbane Broncos, State of Origin and Kangaroos star indicated recently he was certain to be playing somewhere else from next season due to Brisbane’s salary cap constraints. But in a move that will reverberate throughout league’s corridors of power, Karmichael Hunt decided not to head down the Pacific highway in 2010 to join the Gold Coast Titans — it’s much worse than that!
At a tumultuous news conference this morning the 22-year-old Hunt in an amazing decision confirmed that he has accepted a senior playing contract with the new Gold Coast AFL franchise from 2010, when he will spend his initial season reacquainting himself with the game he played as a junior sufficiently well to attract the attention of scouts before signing to the Broncos at just 17. Gold Coast is most likely to field its young development team in next year’s secondary VFL competition before it joins the senior national league from 2011.
After competing his current NRL season before undertaking a short Rugby Union stint in Japan, he will then link up with the Gold Coast next May. His unprecedented defection — the first ever by a NRL international to the AFL, is as much a marketing coup for the Gold Coast as it’s a body blow to league.
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Not only has the Gold Coast clearly with the full approval of AFL boss Andrew Demetriou pulled a massive recruiting rabbit out of the hat (although playing wise that remains to be seen), but Hunt is such a huge off-field promotional weapon for the Broncos and sponsors despite several off-field incidents in recent years. This is going to be a massive shock to Queensland league fans particularly.
With interim senior Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna by his side and a beaming club hierarchy present and presumably still barely able to believe their luck, Hunt explained today how the original audacious approach from the club’s recruiting manager Scott Clayton eventually paid off. While Hunt has fielded numerous overseas offers and bids from rival NRL clubs, this defection came with no previous hint for what is such an explosive development:
First off I would like to say I’m pretty excited with the opportunity that’s in front of me of becoming an elite AFL athlete for the Gold Coast Football Club from 2011. My time at the Broncos has been illustrious and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve been turning up to every training session I could since I was 17. I just felt it was time for a new challenge.
As you’ve already heard, my manager got the phone call earlier on in the year by Scottie Clayton, and they offered the opportunity for me I guess to challenge myself in a different code. And I let it sit with me for the past couple of months and I only decided recently that was a path I wanted to take.
Here I am in front of yous today — but I just want to reemphasise it’s an exciting time in my life and I’m looking forward to 2011.
Needless to say the club was quick to assure the gathered media this was anything but a publicity stunt — but what it most certainly is from today is a huge shot fired across the bows of the NRL. It now remains to be seen if others NRL players with a similar dual background of having played AFL in their junior days, might also entertain similar feelings of wanting to change codes — and adjust their bank accounts.
In recent years poorly paid NRL superstars either fled Australia for bigger money contracts further afield via English Super League or overseas Rugby Union in places like France and Japan, or sought to become union converts at home.
This has met with mixed success with another ex-Bronco Lotte Tuqiri the most notable league star to switch where he went on to become a high profile Wallaby before he was recently unceremoniously dumped from his Australian contract that is now being litigated after the ARU refused to publicly divulge the reasons behind its controversial decision to end his current big-money five-year deal dating from 2007. The manner of his dismissal left a sour taste in a lot of player’s mouths, helping create mistrust on both sides of the rugby divide as the ARU flagged it was no longer willing to entice NRL stars to the code on big money deals.
But until today who would have thought the NRL’s greatest threat to trying to retain the game’s superstars on admittedly much less lucrative deals compared to what’s on offer elsewhere around the world, would emerge on its own doorstep from its most dangerous commercial rival?
As football recruiting secrets go this one is a real doozy!