Hunt to start on Reds bench
Melbourne - Karmichael Hunt's quest to repair his tarnished image after a six-week ban for cocaine possession will start from the bench in the Reds' Super Rugby match against Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Hunt, one of Australia's highest-profile athletes and regarded at the start of the season as a potential bolter for the Wallabies' World Cup squad, was fined by a Gold Coast court after pleading guilty to drug charges in September and October of last year.
The 28-year-old avoided a conviction but his halo has slipped after having forged a successful career in both Australian Rules football and rugby league.
"Sitting out obviously has been disappointing for a lot of people but mostly myself, because it's not where I want to be," Hunt told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday.
"I'm excited to be playing the sport I played as a kid and overseas and looking forward to hitting the ground running, building some games and some form."
Though his switch from Aussie Rules to Super Rugby generated plenty of hype for the Reds in the off-season, Hunt has played only one game for the Brisbane-based side and was ineffective as the starting flyhalf in a one-sided rout by the Brumbies.
Coach Richard Graham had hoped to groom him into a fullback and possibly bring him forward to the centres, but the drug ban shelved those plans.
Former Australia back Lachie Turner will start at fullback for a Reds team who have had a dreadful start to the season and are bottom of the Australian conference heading into the eighth round.
"Karmichael has trained with the team for the past two weeks after completing his stand down period," Graham said in a statement.
"He was on a modified program for the previous month and returns in good physical condition. He is aware that he let the team down and is determined to make a positive contribution to our performance whenever he gets the opportunity.
"The playing group are conscious of the need to get better quickly and are pushing each other to ensure we transfer that through to our performance against the Rebels," Graham said.
With their hopes of making the playoffs hanging by a thread, Queensland will field their strongest side for weeks for the match in Melbourne.
Flanker Liam Gill returns from a suspension for a reckless tackle and prop Greg Holmes restored to the starting side after returning on the bench last week from a broken thumb.
15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Ben Daley, 17 Saia Fainga’a, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Chris Kuridrani, 23 Karmichael Hunt