Jarryd Hayne has been called the LeBron James of rugby, and not because he has a comically receding hairline. A year ago, Hayne had his own version of The Decision, but instead of breaking the hearts of one Midwestern city, Hayne turned on an entire continent when he announced plans to give up rugby to take a shot at the NFL.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, and at my age, this is my one and only chance at having a crack at playing there,” he wrote in a letter to fans of his pro team and Australia national rugby squad.
And so Hayne set off to America, with only his 6’2”, 220-pound frame and a host of rugby highlights to sell NFL teams on his potential. It worked. The 49ers signed him to a three-year deal in March and after watching his rugby highlights, it’s easy to see why.
Still, running roughshod over a bunch of bear-sized Kiwis doesn’t mean a guy can compete on Sundays. Hayne’s used to playing unencumbered by pads and a helmet. He’s used to the relatively free flowing action of rugby. And he’s used to being a superstar. How would he do under pads in a new country where nobody knows him?
If this preseason was any any indication, he’ll do really, really well. Hayne has been a revelation for the 49ers this summer. He averaged seven yards per carry in four preseason games, while racking up the second most yards of the summer. He also caught passes, flashed some slick kick return skills and lowered the boom on NFL defenders.
The only thing left for Hayne to accomplish is making the Niners 53-man roster, which most football people seem to think is going to happen. It will be a remarkable ascent for Hayne, whose foray into football is being watched closely in Australia. As for what Niners fans can expect from the 27-year-old in the regular season, who the hell knows? NFL history is littered with preseason studs who were never heard from again. That said, NFL history is not littered with MVPs of the National Rugby League who showed up in the States and immediately started dominating. No one knows what to expect from Hayne because no one has seen anyone like him.
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