‘I noticed the hair first’: Remembering Karmichael Hunt’s NRL debut ahead of his long-awaited return

I noticed the hair first.

Standing upright, like a mohawk with intricate patterns carved into the shaved sides of his scalp.

The sidestep — which was more of a goose-step, at that stage, with a small hop on the spot before powering off his left foot — came next.

But it was the fearlessness he had when returning the ball that left a lasting impression.

I will always remember Karmichael Hunt’s debut.

I was 13 years old, watching on in the Lang Park stands with my dad, Broncos cap tangled in my curls, with a Brisbane scarf firmly tied around my neck, in spite of the heat.

Georgie Tunny was in the stands when a 17-year-old Karmichael Hunt exploded onto the scene.(

ABC News: Georgie Tunny


We’d been going to the footy every weekend for as long as I could remember. But that afternoon was different. There was a new buzz around the crowd.

Whispers about his age: “17 years old! 17! Remember what you were doing at 17?”

His position: “He’s going to play fullback, big shoes to fill. Surely, he can’t be as good as Locky?”

And his hair, always his hair: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

It all swirled among the Broncos members, and it didn’t take long for the murmurs and half sentences to turn to cheers whenever he got near the ball.

The kid could play.

And play he did – 125 NRL games for Brisbane, including a premiership in 2006; 10 State of Origin appearances for Queensland; and 11 Tests for Australia.

LtoR Karmichael Hunt shares a joke with Johnathan Thurston
Hunt was barely in his mid-20s when he left rugby league, but he achieved more than most.(

Sergio Dionisio: AAP


Then, came the code switch.

It remains one of the biggest shocks in Australian sport, from Steeden to Sherrin.

Hunt’s AFL career began brightly. He was the pin-up signing for the Gold Coast Suns ahead of their inaugural season in 2011. He played four seasons with the team – and was on the receiving end of some of the biggest demolitions of the club – but never truly picked up the game.

Hunt swallows one at training
The Suns had superstar Gary Ablett Jr, but all eyes were on Hunt when he made the jump to AFL.(

Dave Hunt: AAP Image


Rugby union was a different story. The skills that made him a fan favourite at Red Hill were back on display for the Queensland Reds from 2015. A Wallabies jersey followed before he moved to the New South Wales Waratahs for two seasons.

But now, after 4,277 days, Hunt will return home.

The current Broncos team looks nothing like the one he left in 2009 and the world has changed a fair bit too.

Avatar had not been released, iPads were not created and Instagram did not exist the last time Hunt wore maroon and gold.

Karmichael Hunt wears a backwards cap as he runs with a rugby league ball at Brisbane Broncos training.
A lot has happened in the decade since Hunt last played for the Broncos.(

Twitter: Brisbane Broncos


But it is his time away from the Broncos, more than his past NRL success at the club that new coach Kevin Walters is banking on ahead of his return to rugby league against the Canberra Raiders.

“It’s been a good week with Karmichael back in the side. He brings all that experience, that calmness into the group,” Walters said on Friday morning.

And the struggling team will need all of Hunt’s composure on Saturday night with another switch-up in the halves.

Albert Kelly had originally been named at halfback to team up with Hunt for the first time – the seventh different combination Brisbane has tried this season – but he has been struggling with hamstring soreness.

“We’ve got to be strong enough mentally to get ourselves around that,” Walters said, with the less experienced Tyson Gamble or Cory Paix set to step in.

“That’s what we’re looking for from [Hunt]. Some leadership in those key positions and he brings plenty of that.”

With a nickname like Special K, Hunt would have dealt with obscene amounts of pressure and spotlight on and off the field previously.

But if the 34-year old can somehow drag the Broncos out of a dismal form slump – currently, the team is second last on the ladder, leads the league in missed tackles and has the second-worst attack in the competition – it may just be the biggest achievement of his code-hopping career.

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