BY Ed Wyatt 01:43PM 10/15/2014

Aussie rugby star takes a fancy to Seahawks

Jarryd Hayne, Australia’s best rugby player, has retired at 26 and wants to become an NFL player. He’s been to Seahawks headquarters. Crikey.

Aussie Jarryd Hayne, 26, plans to chase his dream in the NFL. / Wiki Commons

MELBOURNE — Jarryd Hayne is arguably the best player in Australia’s National Rugby League. He was a co-winner of the prestigious Dally M medal awarded to NRL’s player of the year.  At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, the 26-year-old cuts and moves like an NFL running back or wide receiver, which is just what he wants to be.

In an extraordinary media conference in Sydney Wednesday, Hayne stunned the rugby league world by announcing he was retiring and leaving his team, the Parramatta Eels, to take a shot at playing in the NFL.

Hayne has not signed with any American team and told the media that he plans to go to Los Angeles to train. But on a recent trip to the U.S., he visited the Seahawks headquarters in Renton.

He also seemed to have a soft spot for Husky football, if you check his Instagram account.

His announcement inspired many well-wishers to his Twitter account:

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he didn’t meet Hayne and was cautious about talking about him because he wasn’t clear about his contract status with his Aussie team.

“It’s a pretty exciting thought,” he said. “He’s an incredible athlete. They have a lot of great players and it’s a great game — they run fast and play hard.

“The transition would be really hard. There’s only a certain few who can (make the NFL without previous football experience).”

If successful, Hayne’s move would not be unprecedented. A number of Australians – Ben Graham, Sav Rocca, Darren Bennett – have made the transition from Australian Rules Football, but they, along with Brad Wing, who starred at LSU and is a Pittsburgh Steeler, are punters.

Only two Australians have played in the NFL as non-punters, assuming you don’t include Seahawks lineman Jesse Williams, who starred at Alabama but is on injured reserve for the second season in a row.

Colin Scotts a defensive lineman who played at Hawai’i, was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 and played in seven games, while Hayden Smith, now back playing professional rugby in England, made five appearances for the New York Jets in 2012.

The big question (other than how will Parramatta cope with the loss of its best player) is whether Hayne can fulfill his dream. There’s no doubt he’s a superb talent, but the question is whether he can adapt to a game with which he is familiar only through television and Madden video games.

Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush was in Australia recently on a promotional tour.  After watching video of Hayne, he said, “It looks like he could come play with us tomorrow.”

Of course there are plenty of people in the world who look like they can play in the NFL.

Hayne himself sounds realistic. He told the media that this is a long-term plan and that “I’m under no illusion. It’s going to be tough. I’m risking a lot, putting a lot on the line. But if there’s no risk, there’s no reward.”

He called it “a huge challenge” and admitted that he’s been thinking about the move for awhile.

“It’s been in my heart for so long,” he said. “And that’s why it’s something I have to do.”

 Ed Wyatt spent seven years playing burned-out dudes and High-Five’n White Guys on KING-TV’s Almost Live! show before moving to Melbourne. He hosted the Super Bowl on Australian television for nine years and currently works as a sportswriter and radio commentator.


YourThoughts

  • David Bufalini

    Ed Wyatt coached my JV basketball team at Bellarmine High in the late 80′s. Great to see all the success.

    • Ed Wyatt

      Thanks David. I seem to recall you hitting a couple of big free throws to seal the prestigious JV Championship. Hope you’re well.

      • art thiel

        Well, hell, Ed, if you’re that good, let’s have you come back and help Romar at UW.

  • Eric K

    if he can catch punts returner would be a natural way to start, don’t need to learn plays and so on, the instincts would be pretty much the same, seems worth taking a practice squad flyer on him

    • Ed Wyatt

      Eric: you’re on the money. The best example I can think of is Scott Harding, who is one of the University of Hawai’i's best receivers. He came from Australian Rules football background and started as a punt returner. It makes perfect sense. But of course, the NFL isn’t college football!

  • jafabian

    Thanks for the scouting report Ed. Love your work on Amost Live!

    From what I understand Hayne has the size and speed of a RB or KR. He could make a good return man and IMO it’d be nice to have someone in that role full time, which they haven’t had since releasing Leon Washington. It’s also been suggested if he adds some weight he could play TE. At least we can be sure he isn’t afraid of contact.

    When US track bronze medalist Michael Bates played for the Seahawks he first played special teams and was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 1993 when he had 22 special teams tackles. He later became a 5 time Pro Bowler as a kick returner for the Panthers. Hayne could go that route with some work.

    • Ed Wyatt

      Thanks for the comment, appreciate it. I forgot about Michael Bates, good reference. One worry is that Hayne wants to do it ASAP when I think a two-year plan would make the most sense. But he’s not giving up his NRL deal to wait a couple of years. Special teams makes most sense, but a team would have to be willing to keep him around – even on a practice squad – almost as an experiment.

      • art thiel

        My guess is he’ll have to spend most of 2015 in specialized training. He might get an invite to the 90-man rosters for mini-camp in spring to see how much of the game he’s learned.

    • art thiel

      Bates is a good analogy, but he was playing the game for years.

  • RadioGuy

    I wish Hayne all the luck in the world. He’s making AU$500K a year playing rugby in the Oz and even punters make more than that to take far less physical wear and abuse…why WOULDN’T he want to try his hand in the NFL?

    Even so, while rugby is a great, physical sports in which you can take a good pounding, there’s nothing like what goes on during an NFL game. Hayne is a tough, tough guy and may be able to handle himself in the NFL, but he’d be going up against monsters every week here.

    It would be interesting to see where Schneider and Carroll project someone like him. He’s an athlete, no question, but he’d be a raw project who’d spend at least one year on the practice roster. How much will an NFL team pay a question mark like that? As much as he’s been getting with Parramatta? And how much might this interest on Hayne’s part be a tactic to bring his NRL salary up?

    • art thiel

      He and his agent will have a pro day scouting evaluation for all clubs. If he gets a training camp invite, his biggest problem won’t be physical. It will be mental. He’s 16 years behind players who started learning the game at 10. If he makes a 53-man roster, it will be for special teams on a 2-14 finisher.

      • RadioGuy

        I go back to my last sentence. Unless this guy is an Aussie version of Michael Jordan (who at least played baseball as a kid), I think this is likely all about jacking up his pay in rugby.