Strong and smart, maybe the league boys can play
"It's the first time I've seen him aggressive" ... Kevin Sheedy on Israel Folau. Photo: Wolter Peeters
AFL fans can be a cynical bunch, so nothing was bound to prompt as big an outbreak of scepticism among the ranks of diehards than the decision of two clubs yet to even play 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 defected to Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney respectively. But it's been an instructive few days for those who suspected Folau and Hunt, who yesterday was re-signed by the Suns until the end of 2014, 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.
"Football nous is something many believe can't be learnt, even by those who have grown up with a Sherrin in their hands." Photo: Getty Images
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 between Simon Hogan and Selwood and bang the ball forward. The result was 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 Matthew 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 have 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 season, even that 55-metre bomb against Geelong in the Suns' home 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 showing in the Giants' NAB Cup first round outing a fortnight earlier.
GWS coach Kevin Sheedy was miked up for Fox 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 another cog. Then, switched forward again, it all seemed to click.
A couple of strong marks, a clever pass that should have netted the Giants a goal, and then a crunching tackle on the Hawks' Kyle Cheney, from which he should have kicked a goal. Another nice mark yielded another narrow miss but then, within seven minutes, he had 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, it was smart play.
All up, it was a good weekend for the AFL's game development spruikers. That's not to say Hunt and Folau have arrived, but you feel however these bold experiments turn out, they won't end in farce.