The Australian Rugby Union has revealed it has provided financial assistance to secure the services of crosscode star Karmichael Hunt.
After months of giving every indication it would not top up any offer for the former AFL and rugby league player to join the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby, ARU boss Bill Pulver admitted on Saturday that Hunt was on an Australian “agreement”.
The ARU did not disclose any further details of its contract with Hunt but it comes as an about face after Pulver said in June: “At this point in time, I am not contemplating an ARU relationship with Karmichael Hunt.”
Last month Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said he wasn’t aware of any extra deal, saying: “If they have done anything, they have done it themselves.”
But Pulver was quick to sing Hunt’s praises on Saturday and disclosed that the ARU had pitched in for the deal while confirming it hadn’t helped out financially with his new Reds teammate James O’Connor.
O’Connor’s previous ARU contract was terminated last year following a series of off-field indiscretions.
“I think (Hunt) is a very special player, the sort of player that comes along only every now and again,” Pulver said of the fleet-footed back who is thought to be commanding around $600,000 a season.
“In the case of James O’Connor it’s entirely a Queensland rugby union contract.
“In the case of Karmichael Hunt, we have him on an Australian agreement working in tandem with Queensland Rugby Union.
“We’ve been in a constant dialogue with (QRU CEO) Jim Carmichael, but it was always absolutely clear that we would not be signing James up to an Australian contract at this point, having severed the relationship not so long ago.
“But everyone deserves a second chance; he’s a wonderful player.”
Pulver said O’Connor, who has played overseas for London Irish and French powerhouse Toulon since being cut loose by the ARU, could be considered for another ARU contract.
“It will be a judgment call based on how things go both on and off the field,” Pulver said.
Queensland lifted the lid on rugby’s worst kept secret on Friday when they officially confirmed the signings of 44-Test Wallaby utility O’Connor, for two years, and code hopper Hunt for three.
Former State of Origin and Test rugby league star Hunt, who is finishing a four-year stint with AFL club Gold Coast, played rugby as a schoolboy and for French club Biarritz, for whom he scored a try in a Heineken Cup final.
Reds coach Richard Graham said he hadn’t pressed O’Connor for a promise regarding his behaviour.
“I think people need to judge James by his actions when he arrives, it’s very easy to pre-judge him,” Graham said.
He views O’Connor as a winger and Hunt initially as a a fullback, though he said the latter could also play outside centre and five-eighth.
Graham declined to say if Hunt would play for one of the two Queensland teams in the National Rugby Championship.