Jarryd Hayne was one of the best players in rugby league. A relatively minor sport on a world stage, but in Australia he was the man. He was the savior for an ailing franchise in the Parramatta Eels during the 2014 NRL season, and the leading light for New South Wales state as they won the State of Origin for the first time in eight years.
But Hayne threw that all away this week with his decision to quit rugby league on Wednesday and try the impossible switch to the NFL. As a rugby league player, the most obvious switch for Hayne to get more money is rugby union. A different sport with a higher earning potential, but Hayne wants to play in the NFL because it's his dream, and potentially if he does make it, his earnings would dwarf any player in either rugby code - which is why the move is clever financially.
Pursuing a dream
But as Hayne explained in a statement on the Parramatta Eels website on Wednesday, the decision to go to the US and pursue the opportunity to play in the NFL through team trials is a dream of his that Hayne has thought of for a while.
“For the past 24 months I’ve been thinking about having a crack in the NFL, and over the last 12 months I’ve been seriously considering it,” said Hayne in a statement on the Eels website. “Today I can officially announce that I will be heading to the United States to pursue an opportunity to play American football. I will be withdrawing from the Kangaroos Four Nations side immediately, and accepting a conditional release from the Eels to make the move overseas.”
When thinking about Hayne and whether he can make it in the NFL, it's important to remember that the league full-back is a star and an elite athlete.
The player that he has compared himself with in NFL terms is Matt Forte. The ultimate dual-threat running back in the NFL who has been in stellar form for the Chicago Bears this season.
"He [Matt Forte] is a similar height, position, and a bit like me," Hayne told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I have the speed, the agility, the vision and as far as education [for NFL], I'm a quick learner and can pick things up easily."
But it is that last bit of his comments above that will catch him out. The NFL is much more intellectual than rugby league. In league you run hard and tackle hard and utilize dummy runners to deceive and create gaps in the opposition defense. But the NFL is much more different.
Massive struggle ahead
An NFL playbook will always be ten times as big as any league playbook, and the calls and plays Hayne will have to remember and run to perfection will be his biggest sticking point.
He may think he is a fast learner, but he has never played American Football before. He has no idea what it takes mentally yet. That is where his biggest challenge lies.
Hayne is at his best when he is playing an unscripted style of sport, and so his desire to try out as a punt/kick returner initially is wise. This is when the NFL will be able to see his raw talent as an athlete, which is immense, just type his name into YouTube for proof.
But learning the game will be his toughest challenge. This writer believes that Hayne can become a very good returner and maybe even a decent back-up running back. But he will certainly not become a starter on offense or someone an NFL franchise would want to pin their hopes on.