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‘I am forever grateful for the experiences’

Dear Queenslanders,

Queensland, for me, definitely has its own vibe.

I was born in New Zealand, so having spent the first 10 years over in NZ, and moving to Queensland as an early teenager, the culture to me gave off a vibe… hardworking, good mates.

All the teams I grew up playing in, whether it was junior league teams at Acacia Ridge or through the Queensland school systems, you worked your butt off, but you had fun at the same time. I guess that mentality, or mindset, flowed through to senior levels for me, definitely.

Wearing the Brisbane Broncos jersey then wearing the Queensland jersey – when it was time to go out there and work, or in training, you never met harder workers than Queenslanders. But at the same time, they had your back out on the field, during training or whenever you needed a hand. And at the same time, we enjoyed each other’s company. That’s it in a nutshell for me.

Running the ball. Photo: NRL Images
Running the ball. Photo: NRL Images

I grew up watching State of Origin. Even as a New Zealander. My parents were born in New Zealand, but they were always Queensland supporters. Naturally, I followed suit.

Some of my earliest childhood memories were watching Origin games and watching the late comebacks.

I think one of the earliest memories for me was the game where Tunza barged over in the dying minutes of the game to snatch victory from New South Wales. I think that might have been Locky’s debut game as well.

The memories of the ‘never give up, never day die’ attitude were imprinted from a young age for me and obviously stuck with me throughout my adult life and transferred to my sporting career as well.

Rugby league, for me, started back in New Zealand, when I was four.

Mum and dad are rugby league people. Dad more so. So naturally his only son would follow in his footsteps.

So cold mornings, icy mornings, jersey on the heater – that’s what league was for me as a young boy. And it has been there throughout my whole life.

When I came over to Queensland, first thing mum and dad did was join me up at the local rugby league club, which was Souths Acacia Ridge.

I played there from under 11s, all the way up until I finished school, then was able to join the Broncos at Red Hill. I have plenty of fond memories playing in the Brisbane competition as a junior.

I was lucky enough to play for the schoolboys teams as well. Met West and even a bit of Met East when I moved over to Churchie to play rugby. Then thankful to be able to pull on the Maroons jersey at the schoolboy level, which was probably one of the highlights for me because, growing up, there was some great competition around.

I remember playing with Benji and I remember playing with a lot of other guys that went on to play in the NRL as well.

The competition at that level was of a high standard and definitely pushed me to be the best player I could be at that age. But I also knew I always had to get better because guys like Sammy Thaiday were setting the pathway. All the other guys coming through the ranks were pushing me to be as good as I could be.

And those lessons stuck with me when I turned up at Broncos as a 17-year-old.

When I moved to Brissie, I watched a lot of Broncos games. I used to go out to Mt Gravatt and watch a few of their home games when they were out there. Obviously Locky was an idol of mine. I used to really love watching Tonie Carroll play.

The good old days, obviously, when you’ve got the big names I just mentioned. They all had something in their game that I tried to implement into my game as a young guy... whether it was the toughness of Tonie Carroll, or the ball carrying ability or creativeness of Locky, the pace that he had...  at the Broncos and in the Queensland jersey. I just tried to take something and live it on the weekends.

My first call up for the Maroons was a funny one because I got picked to play Test footy first, which was a bit of a surprise to me.

But heading into the Origin series, I missed out on the first game. The boys got beat; 2006 was the first year of our sweep of eight series we won, but they’d lost the first game.

I didn’t get selected for that contest but the second time around, I can’t remember the call, the details of it, but I remember being very elated and grateful that, you know, I finally got the opportunity to be able to play.

My Origin debut in Brisbane. Thankfully, we were able to win. And unfortunately for me, I broke my foot, because I backed up a couple of nights later for the Broncs and managed to get a broken bone in my foot and missed the last game down in Melbourne when Locky intercepted a ball and scored a try on the final buzzer. Clinton Schifcofscke kicked the goal for us to win. And the rest is history from that series onward.

I was able to be part of the first four series of the sweep and the boys continued it on once I took off and ventured out to try new things.

My first camp was unreal.

Growing up, I was part of the Emerging Origin camps. We had, before I actually made my debut, Wayne Bennett come into camp, ex-players float through, to give you an understanding of what it meant to be a Queenslander; and this was at a high school level.

So, once I hit the professional scene and heard about how special a time it was in camp, for me to be able to experience that first hand… it definitely didn’t let me down.

It is still one of the highlights of my career, being involved in Origin camps, because it’s just a different atmosphere from the first day you get the call, to going into camp and seeing all the boys, the buzz with the media, the little functions that you have with sponsors in the first couple of days, catching the bus down to the Gold Coast to set up camp, to one of the golf courses at the Sunshine Coast.

The total package of Origin camps, and obviously leading into one of the biggest competitions that you’ll ever play in, it’s unrivalled for me.

Karmichael Hunt FOG #159

The first time ‘round was an absolute buzz.

Running out for the first time was spine tingling. There’s not many experiences that match that. Every time I ran out onto Suncorp in a Queensland jersey, with the stadium full, fireworks going off.

Some of my memories are running out behind Thursto and GI and just getting an eruption of emotion, letting it off with a scream and looking at each other with a smile… just knowing we’re about to go to battle for 80 against the arch nemesis.

Donning maroon with GI. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon with GI. Photo: NRL Images

A fond memory and experience, which, is pretty hard to match. It was a feeling that never got old. It’s something that when I watch games now and watch Origin series’ now, I understand the feeling the guys are going through. It definitely rekindles some fond memories, for sure.

The biggest highlight for me, during my time, was just winning.

Personally, firstly being good enough and being lucky enough to be picked in those teams that I played in, but more importantly, just winning.

You spend all the time together during camps in the lead up to the games, but when you go out there and you actually win and you celebrate afterwards, and fans are celebrating, and everyone is happy – that’s what makes it all worthwhile in the end and the reason why we do what we do. To win games and lift that trophy at the end of the series.

The lowest point for me was missing out on playing in the final game down in Melbourne, having broken my foot. I was almost teased, making my debut in Game II and missing out on the series clincher down in Melbourne, Game III. But it only made me more hungry to get back playing football and to get picked the following year. That’s probably my old low point.

The rest, you know, I was lucky enough to be part of the first four series wins that obviously started the snowball effect after that.

Queensland fans – you – add to those memories for me.

You’re so passionate. Almost the heartbeat of why players feel so honoured to pull on that jersey and go to battle for the state. Because of you.

You turn out in thousands just for signing sessions, training sessions, when they’re open, are absolutely packed with everyone in Maroons jerseys.

The whole state, around Origin time, is maroon. You notice it when you finish camp and drive to Brissie for a couple of days. Brissie is just painted maroon. Everywhere, there’s Maroons jerseys or Maroons flags. You can’t escape it.

The passion fans have for the have for the jersey, the competition and the rivalry is what fuels the desire for players like myself to want to be involved in that.

Playing. Photo: NRL Images
Playing. Photo: NRL Images

It’s only become more intense as the years have gone by. It’s, again, an experience that’s hard to beat in the sporting landscape in Australia.

Having played league since I was four and having been lucky enough to experience a lot of great moments before the age of 23… Origin was a goal of mine, playing Test footy, winning a premiership, having played over a 100 or so games for the Broncos.

I’ve always been a multi-sport person even though dad chucked me in a league jersey at four years old. I’ve always had an appreciation for basketball, rugby. Having experienced rugby at high school as well.

I’m always one for making sure you can go out there and experience and challenge yourself. And utilise the time that you have in life to see what you can do.

As I said, thankfully enough, and gratefully enough, I was given the opportunities to tick a few things off my list in rugby league, but when I left the game it was just time to go on, move on and see what I could do in some other sports.

I am forever grateful for the experiences and I’ll definitely be back in league in some capacity to help give back to the game.

For me, I am very honoured to have played some part in Origin, and its 40-year history.

Just to see where the game has gotten to now. It’s, if not the pinnacle, one of the most watched and spoken about competitions in the Australian landscape.

Obviously globally, it’s gaining a lot of attention as well, but taking the game over the Perth, seeing how people turn out in droves to the MCG.

To be able to play a part in that and just watch the game and the competition grow as it has, it’s a tremendous honour and I’m glad that the competition, and Queensland, is where it’s at right now.

Queensland fans, thank you.

From a personal level, thank you for, as I said before, inspiring me as a young kid to want to be a part of every Origin game I was eligible to play.

And obviously thank you for continuing to provide that inspiration for the generation that’s lucky enough to don the jersey now. Because you are a massive part of what Queensland is about.

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

I think the future for Queensland is bright.

Look, you know, Queensland has done a good job in nurturing the young players coming through. And I know that from a firsthand level, when I was part of the Emerging Origin camps, as a 17, 16-year-old.

With the likes of Ponga and the rest of the young boys coming through, even though there has been a passing of the guard over the last couple of years, losing the greats to retirement like Billy and Thursto, the team is in a great spot and Kevie has got them going in a great direction.

I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn up in the next series.

Kind regards,

Karmichael Hunt

FOG #159