The unique career of code-hopper Karmichael Hunt is in danger of an implosion, with the Queensland Reds recruit facing allegations of supplying cocaine.
Hunt, along with Gold Coast NRL players Beau Falloon and Jamie Dowling, have all been charged and will appear in a Gold Coast court next month following a six-month operation by Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).
Elevated to the Reds’ vice-captain before taking to the field for the Super Rugby franchise, Hunt will now be stood down until at least his scheduled March 5 appearance at Southport Magistrates Court.
In a statement released on Friday, the CCC said it had arrested three men and a 22-year-old woman as part of an investigation into a cocaine trafficking syndicate in southeast Queensland.
The news rocked the Queensland Rugby Union, who cancelled a scheduled press conference with Reds captain James Slipper following the revelations.
In a statement released later on Friday, the Reds confirmed that Hunt would not play in Saturday’s clash with the Western Force.
“The QRU will not be in a position to determine a formal course of action until legal proceedings have concluded, as we will not be prejudicing the player’s legal, contractual or natural rights,” QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael said in the statement.
“However, it has been determined by QRU, ARU and the Rugby Union Player’s Association and after discussion with Karmichael that it would be best for his welfare that he is not available for selection this weekend.”
If found guilty, the charges are almost certain to end Hunt’s remarkable three-code football career just as he was being considered as a possible selection for the Wallabies’ World Cup squad at the end of the season.
“We take any allegations of illicit drug use in our game seriously and we support the decision to stand down Karmichael Hunt until further notice,” ARU boss Bill Pulver said.
Starting as a teenager at NRL club Brisbane, where he won a premiership and played for Queensland and Australia, the 28-year-old has gone on to play rugby union in France and 44 games for the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL.
After injuries marred the final two years of his AFL stint, Hunt announced he was heading back to rugby union with the Reds.
The QRU said the CCC’s investigation covers the period from September 1 to October 3, before Hunt joined the Reds for pre-season training.
Meanwhile, the news of Falloon and Dowling’s alleged involvement is the latest scandal to rock NRL problem club the Titans, who announced they were moving out of their training base at the Gold Coast’s Southport School following the allegations.
Titans chief executive Graham Annesley, who has already had to front the media this season following off-field dramas with Greg Bird, James Roberts and Paul Carter, admitted the latest drama was frustrating.
The former NRL administrator also said he couldn’t confirm or deny reports up to four other players were in the CCC’s sights.
Annesley said no decision has been made on a new training base for the Titans but there was no way the club could continue to train alongside high school students.
The arrests come after former international rugby league player Jason Smith and ex-North Sydney and Wests Tigers fullback Matt Seers were charged with supplying drugs in separate arrests in January.
It’s unknown at this stage if all the arrests are linked.