Karmichael Hunt says he feels for Israel Folau but believes the Wallabies star's absence could allow the NSW Waratahs to finally get some consistency in their backline.
Folau faces a Rugby Australia (RA) code of conduct hearing early next month after his latest controversial social media posting. Like Folau, Hunt has fallen foul of RA during his rugby career and received fines and suspensions after he pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in 2015 and 2018.
Hunt and Folau first played together in senior rugby league more than a decade ago when they were part of Queensland's State of Origin team and the Kangaroos World Cup squad in 2008; they were also Brisbane Broncos teammates in 2009.
They faced each other in the AFL in 2012 when Folau was part of GWS Giants when they logged their first win, against Hunt's Gold Coast side.
Hunt played in the Wallabies backline alongside Folau in 2017 and joined him at the Waratahs earlier this year.
Asked how he felt about Folau's situation as someone who had been given chances after incurring the ire of RA, Hunt said: "It's a sad situation. I've got a personal connection with Izzy that's gone back many years now, so to obviously see him the position that he's in - regardless of what his behaviour has caused - I still feel for him.
"But there's a process in place now which is out of our control, out of my control and away from my personal beliefs. We as a team just have to worry about moving forward."
Several of the Waratahs' Test backs were rested in the first half of the Super Rugby season and Hunt suggested Folau's absence would allow them to establish some continuity.
"I guess now, unfortunately, the situation that has happened (with Folau) it's given us the ability to maintain some consistency with our line-up," he said.
Hunt believes Kurtley Beale, the other main contender for the Waratahs' inside centre spot, is now entrenched as NSW's, after a strong performance last weekend.
And Hunt is relishing the prospect of playing regularly at inside centre, where he started his first three Tests, and potentially staking a claim for that position at the World Cup.
"I've been pretty vocal about 12 being probably better suited to me than 15," he said.
Hunt credited Waratahs coach and former All Blacks inside centre Daryl Gibson for adding different elements to his game.
"He can see things in my game which I can add in terms of just changing running lines and getting into positions which allow me to be a bit more effective," he said.