Hunt ready to face the heat in Waratahs debut
SYDNEY, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Karmichael Hunt said he is ready for a daunting return to the rugby field when he lines up against All Blacks wrecking ball Ngani Laumape in the New South Wales Waratahs Super Rugby opener on Saturday.
Hunt did not play Super Rugby last year after being released by the Queensland Reds for an off-field indiscretion and has only been in pre-season training with the Waratahs for about four weeks.
He will line up in the midfield with Adam Ashley-Cooper against Laumape's Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday at Brookvale Oval for his first serious match since 2017.
"Physically I feel good," Hunt told reporters on Friday. "The mind is good, the preparation has been a bit of a whirlwind to start off with.
"It's only been four weeks in the process, but I feel ready as I'll ever be."
Hunt has had to get up to speed in a hurry after he was frozen out in 2018 by Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn, who took a hard line against players' off-field indiscretions.
He was thrown a lifeline by the Waratahs, who signed the utility back on a one-year contract last month.
Hunt had picked up a four-match ban and A$10,000 fine from Rugby Australia after he escaped conviction for possession of a prescription anxiety disorder medication.
The six-test Wallaby, who like his Waratahs team mate Israel Folau has also played international rugby league and top-level Australian Rules, did not play for the Reds at all last season.
The 32-year-old, who was put on an 'illicit drugs testing' programme for a year, was also banned for six weeks in 2015 after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
He is one of three Australian internationals looking to resurrect their Super Rugby careers after being released from the Reds.
Hunt has played just 10 minutes alongside Ashley-Cooper in a pre-season match and said the 116-test cap utility back's experience would be invaluable against Laumape and one-test All Black Matt Proctor.
"He's got so much experience and so much confidence, and a cool head out there," Hunt said of Ashley-Cooper, who has returned home after three seasons in France and Japan. "He's going to make the game easy for myself and the boys outside him.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. The Canes are a physical team; they like to play direct (and) 10 and 12 are going to get a work-out tomorrow night.
"We've been well prepped. It's been a huge focus for us in terms of shoring up the defensive line." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)