Folau controversy as polarising as NFL's Kaepernick debate: Hunt

Karmichael Hunt says the Israel Folau controversy is a “frustrating” process for everyone but it has done nothing to harm the team’s bonds.

The verdict in the Folau case was expected to be handed down on Thursday but it seems more likely now that the decision will come down on Friday, 10 days after a three-person panel determined the star fullback was guilty of a high-level Code of Conduct breach.

Hunt revealed he’d been in contact with Folau as the process had unfolded and compared the ongoing issue to that of NFL star Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the USA national anthem in the way it has divided opinion.

The 32-year-old has a unique insight into Folau’s situation having been relegated to club rugby in 2018 after a drug-related arrest and said Folau was in a good head space despite the furore.

“He’s doing well and I have been in contact. Regardless of the situation, he’s still our friend, he’s still our teammate and he’s someone that we care about,” he said.

“So, for me, I’ve just been checking in on him and making sure that he’s doing okay and that his head space is doing okay and from what I’m getting from him he seems fine, which is  a pleasing thing.”

Regardless of the outcome, Hunt said he couldn’t remember an issue in his career that had transcended sport like this one in his 15 years of professional football, likening it to last year’s storm surrounding NFL star Colin Kaepernick.

“This is definitely a first,” he said.

“It’s a very complex issue and there’s millennia (of beliefs)  involved and people’s beliefs that are based on millennia (of tradition).

“It’s definitely something I haven’t experienced and I don’t think the sporting landscape hasn’t experienced

“The only thing that comes to mind is the Colin Kaepernick situation over in the States, which I wasn’t intimately involved in but I was keeping an eye on it and it was a pretty polarising event.

“But in terms of the Australian landscape, from what I’ve seen first hand, no, I haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Hunt, who has a long association with Folau dating back to their days in the NRL, has previously expressed his sympathy for his teammate’s plight though stayed out of any comment on his future.

Hunt admitted in an ideal world, the situation wouldn’t have come to pass but ultimately all the Waratahs players could concentrate on now was their make-or-break match against the Reds on Saturday night.

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“I’m sure for Izzy it’s frustrating, it’s frustrating for everyone involved,” he said.

“I think, if I can selfishly say, I wish it probably didn’t happen but it has happened and this is the way the process is played out.

“You’ve got no control over it, the panel will obviously come to their decision but that’s away from any of our powers here at the club.

“All we have to focus on is football and that’s all we have been focussing on so our focus since Izzy hasn’t been around that, it’s just on who we’ve got next and what do we need to do to get better.”

The Waratahs have a 1-3 record since Folau was stood down just over a month ago but Hunt said there was no division in the group.

“Within our team there is no wedge, if anything it’s brought us closer together and I think we’ve probably had the luxury of being over in South Africa for the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“The boys I believe are as tight as ever unfortunately the results aren’t falling our way at the moment but were definitely it’s just around the corner and everyone’s on board and looking forward to this weekend.”

The Waratahs take on the Reds on Saturday May 18 at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.

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