Israel Folau of the Giants and Karmichael Hunt of the Suns. Photo: Ryan Pierse
ISRAEL FOLAU was left with the bragging rights in the battle of the code-hoppers as the GWS Giants stampeded Karmichael Hunt's Gold Coast Suns in the last quarter at Manuka Oval yesterday.
The pair played in the 2009 NRL season with the Brisbane Broncos, but are now big-money signings with different AFL clubs.
While he wasn't named among the best for the Giants, Folau was a massive presence in the forward line and the Giants midfield had a target they could kick to with confidence.
Folau provided a contest and while he only took three marks he repeatedly brought the ball to ground for the Giants smalls to crumb.
He also produced second and third efforts after the marking contest, allowing the midfield to push forward and help out their star recruit.
Folau had 11 possessions - the most in his six-game career - and came agonizingly close to his second AFL major when he streamed into goal in the third quarter only to skew it through for a point.
GWS coach Kevin Sheedy said that with time the contested marks would start to stick for the 23-year-old, who is two years younger than Hunt.
''I said to him, 'If you keep doing that sooner or later you're going to take 70 per cent of the marks and then you'll know which ones you can mark and which ones you can flick over', his hands can be like a traffic controller and he can push the ball out to his teammates running on,'' Sheedy said.
''And when he does that feel, we'll even get more value out of him.''
Hunt picked up more touches (16) than Folau, but his effectiveness was limited by a rotation of Giants players keeping a tight watch on him through the middle, including the prolific ball-winner Stephen Coniglio (31 possessions).
After an average first season where he was widely criticised, Hunt has earned the plaudits of the AFL world for his breakout efforts in recent weeks. And he was one of only two players to draw the praise of Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna after yesterday's 27-point loss.
Sam Day (two goals) was the other, with not even Gary Ablett (31 possessions) getting a wrap.
''I thought [Hunt] set the tone for our midfield. Again, given limited opportunities I thought Sammy [Day], he's not had a proper pre-season if you like, he went back to Arizona twice and I think he's starting to run across the ground and get reward for effort,'' McKenna said.