Image:Sep 14, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Jarryd Hayne (38) poses with an Australian flag after the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Jarryd Hayne’s stint in the National Football League is destined to be remembered as a curious cameo but the Australian rugby league international walks away from an unfulfilled career having already defied improbable odds.
After one frustrating season at the lowly San Francisco 49ers, the Sydney-born 28-year-old announced on Sunday that he had quit American football to pursue Olympic glory with the powerful Fiji rugby sevens team.
Hayne leaves California with a modest record of eight games and one start as a running back under the now-departed Jim Tomsula.
He had 52 yards on 17 rushes and also caught six passes for 27 yards. He returned eight punts for 76 yards.
The statistics would point to Hayne being among the legion of fringe players who could never quite stamp themselves in the big time.
The player himself may not have fancied his chances of making the roster under new coach Chip Kelly, or securing much game-time if he did make the cut.
Pundits have been quick to write off Hayne as a flop but he is unlikely to pay them heed.
He ignored them in 2014 when they said he was giving up a stellar career in Australia’s National Rugby League, the sport’s richest competition, to pursue an impossible dream.
Warnings of the folly were written everywhere.
Less than two percent of the 70,000 players at American colleges can hope to carve out a professional career but Hayne felt he had nothing to lose despite his almost complete ignorance of the game.
He headed to the United States with the confidence of an athlete who has already conquered considerable adversity.
TICKET OUT OF POVERTY
The son of a Fiji rugby league international, Hayne was born with football in his veins. He was raised in government housing in a hard-scrabble suburb in Sydney’s working class west.
Rugby league was his ticket out of poverty and his simple goal upon breaking into Australia’s national competition was to buy his single mother a house.
By the end of his tenure as an explosive fullback at Sydney’s Parramatta Eels, he could afford to buy his mum an apartment block.
He won two Dally M medals as the NRL’s most valuable player and his raised-arm celebrations from scoring tries became known as the “Hayne Plane”.
His prowess as a fullback marked him out as a possible running back in American football and his signing of a three-year deal with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent was hailed as a minor triumph back home.
The hype grew as Hayne impressed in pre-season games and exploded when it was confirmed that he had made the 53-man roster.
The fairytale rise into the NFL ranks was complete but there was to be no sequel in the regular season, with Hayne fumbling his first touch of the ball on a return kick against Minnesota at Levi’s Stadium.
He was waived six weeks later after another fumble against Seattle, but re-signed to the 49ers’ practice squad and briefly re-surfaced late in the season after injuries hit a number of the team’s running backs.
With an eventual return to the NRL on a big-money deal tipped, Hayne’s nomination to play rugby sevens for his father’s country was another bombshell in Australia.
Hayne famously stuffed notes in his pants during the NFL pre-season as he battled to get up to speed with the 49ers playbook.
Another learning curve beckons and Fiji coach Ben Ryan has offered no promises of a place in his Rio squad.
Scepticism abounds, again.
“I don’t think he can make it,” former Australia sevens coach Michael O’Connor told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“In Fiji, superstars in sevens are a dime a dozen.”
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)
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