While current news of the new San Francisco 49er Jarryd Hayne may be focussed on an on-field fumble and the team’s recent thrashings, the bravery and success of his move from Australian rugby league to American football has deservedly brought more attention than the dropped catch. As ABC reported, Hayne’s career in the NRL playing for the Parramatta Eels was full of highlights, including the 2009 Dally M Medal and the 2014 NRL Player of the Year alongside Johnathan Thurston.
Perhaps because of his successive triumphs in the code, the 26-year-old sportsman sought a challenge. As Courier Mail reported, in an open letter to Eels members in September, Hayne delivered news of his decision to pursue a career in America’s National Football League. Eels Chairman Peter Sharp was “devastated” and shocked to see him depart. With no experience in American football, Hayne’s code-switch dream in the USA seemed a far cry from his established position as a high-paid rugby league player with a guaranteed salary and sponsorship.
Chances for an American college-level gridiron player who has played since high school making it to the professional level are slim, with just 1.6% of NCAA college players likely to be drafted by the NRL, as reported on the NCAA’s website.
However, any questions regarding whether the Australian could transfer his skills to the new code and win the backing of a coach have been laid to rest. His gamble has paid off; Hayne was drafted for the practice runs of the so called “glamour club” of NFL – the 49ers, made the finals, and was offered an active position as punt-returner amongst 45 of its other players for the official season.
The move brings additional rewards for the NFL and 49ers, in the form of inherited Australian fans tuning in to NFL broadcasts to watch their adored sportsman. Indeed, all eyes are on Hayne; as reported on News Australia, his Australian following was disappointed with what was deemed his “big mistake” on the world stage, dropping the ball at the season’s opening game against the Vikings. He has managed to turn the ill-fated beginning of his debut performance around, setting up his team’s sole touchdown in a recent game against the Arizona Cardinals, with coach Jim Tomsula saying that he was “very happy” with him.
The success of Hayne’s move to an American sport may bring an element of risk to all major Australian football codes, whose salary offerings are dwarfed by the NFL. On the contrary, there has been some recent success with athletes moving into the Australian market. As ABC reported, all-American athlete Jason Holmes’ transition from basketball to Australian football has proven worthwhile, with the 25-year-old current playing as midfielder on the St Kilda Saints senior grade team.