American football and rugby league are two different sports. That’s stating the obvious, but Jarryd Hayne has somehow made a crossover between the two look easy.
Few Americans likely knew his name before Hayne made a splash on the NFL scene this preseason, but those familiar with rugby league and particularly Australia’s NRL were hardly strangers to his athletic prowess.
As if earning Rugby League International Federation’s Player of the Year award in 2009 and the NRL’s Player of the Year in 2014 wasn’t enough of a sporting achievement, Hayne made the leap across the world to try his hand in a game he had never played before.
Now, the 27-year-old is in good position to make the San Francisco 49ers’ 53-man roster after the team’s first three preseason games and Hayne has America’s attention. The hype train isn’t just picking up steam; it has left the station and is a full-force rumble.
Speaking of locomotives, what is it about the ‘Hayne Train’ that has captivated followers of the NFL?
Well, he might just be a good football player for starters. Through the first two preseason games, Hayne carried the ball 13 times as a running back for 117 yards, while averaging 21.6 yards on five punt returns and reeling off a lone 33-yard kickoff return.
Anyone who is aware of his work in rugby knows what he’s doing on the field isn’t a fluke because his incredible athleticism unsurprisingly translates well to the gridiron.
Hayne apparently ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash in a pro-day style workout, which would rank in the middle of the top 10 for the incoming rookie running backs.
For comparison, Melvin Gordon, who was selected 15th overall by the San Diego Chargers in the draft, ran his 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds.
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Hayne combines his top-end speed with strength, as his 22 bench press reps with the standard 102kg weight would also crack the top 10 of this year’s running back class.
That combination of speed and strength is a nightmare to have to bring down in the open field and Hayne has continuously made defenders miss, using both his elusiveness and a stiff-arm to fend off would-be tacklers.
As impressive as he’s been so far, Hayne is by no means a finished product. He still has to adjust to the speed of the NFL – not physical speed but how quick everything is taking place during a play – and increase his knowledge of the game.
He also needs to get used to lowering his pad level and running closer to the ground instead of standing as upright as he does. His 6-foot-2 height is on the higher end for running backs, but he’s even more elongated due to his pads staying high, which makes him susceptible to bigger hits.
It’s also worth noting Hayne’s playing time in preseason has come against second and third-teamers – guys who are fighting for jobs and unlikely to see the field regularly when the games count.But that shouldn’t take away from what Hayne has accomplished.
There’s a history of athletes switching sports, led by the great Michael Jordan. Basketball and baseball are far less alike than rugby and football, but the fact that arguably the greatest athlete ever in any discipline couldn’t cross-over successfully proves how difficult the feat is.
Seeing an athlete attempt it is captivating and Hayne’s case is even more interesting because he’s unknown in North America and imported internationally.
There was even a Disney movie, Million Dollar Arm, which followed the similar journeys of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel as they left their native India to become professio-nal baseball pitchers in the US.
The difference being that Hayne was already established in a sport and had made it financially and while his story isn’t as heart-warming as Singh and Patel’s, it is cool to see an athlete turn down a seven-figure salary to pursue his dreams.
“I had a burning desire to want to test myself, mentally and emotionally,” Hayne said. “The way to do that was in the NFL.”
Hayne has the country’s attention. We’re now all watching to see how far he can take his newfound career.
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