Code-busters: Israel Folau, who is taking Giant steps and Karmichael Hunt (below), a shining light for the Suns. <i>Photos: Wolter Peeters, Getty Images</i>

Code-busters: Israel Folau, who is taking Giant steps, and Karmichael Hunt (below), a shining light for the Suns. Photos: Wolter Peeters, Getty Images

AFL fans can be a cynical bunch, so nothing was bound to prompt as big an outbreak of scepticism among the ranks of the diehards than the decision of two clubs yet to even play a game to unveil two rugby league stars as their first recruits.

It's not strictly true that Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau were on a hiding to nothing when they made their defections from rugby league superstars to AFL novices for Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, respectively. Some more-than-handy coin would certainly have helped soothe any doubts.

But it's been an instructive few days for those who suspected that both Hunt, who yesterday was re-signed by the Suns until the end of 2014, and Folau would end up as AFL laughing stocks.


There was a moment very early in Gold Coast's NAB Cup clash with Geelong last Friday night that summed up Hunt's potential to offer the Suns some real on-field value as well as all that promotional stuff.

Just five minutes in, at a centre bounce, Hunt, given a run in midfield, simply read the tap better than, of all people, brilliant Geelong skipper Joel Selwood.

He controlled a difficult bounce with his left hand, gathered it with his right, then feigned a handball to duck in between Simon Hogan and Selwood and bang the ball forward - the result a goal to Gold Coast's Nathan Bock.

It was so seamless, it made you wind back the tape to make sure it actually was Hunt. As Fox commentator Gerard Healy put it: ''If that was a second- or third-year player who'd played 14 years as an apprenticeship coming through the junior ranks, we'd be raving about it. That was a magnificent move!''

Later in the same term, Hunt had another ''was that really him?'' moment, when he anticipated the spills from a Gary Ablett tackle on Mathew Stokes, reacted quicker than Shannon Byrnes, and, changing direction, dived in, collecting a greasy ball with one hand and dishing off a handball with the other to Jarrod Harbrow, the fruits another mark and goal to Bock.

Football nous is something many believe can't be learnt, even by those who've grown up with a Sherrin in their hands. But those two acts smacked of it.

Hunt finished the night with just six disposals, but those two cameos alone were probably of more significance than most of what he did in his 16-game debut last year, even that 55-metre bomb against Geelong on the night of the Suns' Metricon Stadium debut.

The next day in Launceston, Hunt's former NRL colleague Folau also raised a few eyebrows, many of the same ones furrowing after his less-than-sparkling show in the Giants' NAB Cup first-round outing a fortnight previously.

GWS coach Kevin Sheedy was miked up for Fox for a cross at the exact moment Folau showed Hawthorn defender Jarrad Boumann a bit of his strength. ''It's the first time I've seen him aggressive,'' Sheedy drooled. ''He's pretty strong. He's just got to use his body correctly.''

Which Folau began to do from the moment he was thrown into the ruck to start the second half, the increased involvement seeming to ramp up his competitiveness. Then, switched forward again, it all seemed to click.

First, he marked strongly in front with a terrific spring. A couple of minutes later, he did it again, then offloaded a clever pass that should have netted the Giants a goal. Two minutes on, he nailed the Hawks' Kyle Cheney in a crunching tackle, from which he should have goaled. Just after that, caught behind Matt Suckling, he worked his way to the front to ''clunk'' another nice mark.

Folau would again miss the shot narrowly. But in a seven-minute burst, he'd scored twice and given off another, taken three strong contested grabs, and laid a bone-crunching tackle. It was strong play. Far more significantly, like Hunt on Friday night, it was smart play. All up, a good weekend indeed for the AFL's game development spruikers.

That's not saying Hunt and Folau have arrived. Indeed, they've barely set foot on the bus yet. But like the clubs they represent, you can at least now feel a little more confident that however these two bold experiments turn out, they're not going to end in farce.