Jarryd Hayne stunned the rugby league world by quitting his long-time Australian club suddenly Wednesday to chase a dream of playing in the National Football League.
Only two weeks after being voted as the best player in the National Rugby League — claiming the prize for the second time — and a day after being selected again for Australia’s national team, Hayne revealed his career move in a statement posted on the Parramatta club’s website, and later confirmed it during an emotional news conference in Sydney.
News of the announcement was broadcast almost instantly on mainstream and social media Down Under, and a leading newspaper described Hayne’s pending move to the United States for a shot at the NFL as one of the “biggest bombshells” in Australian sport.
The 26-year-old fullback was reported to have met with Seattle Seahawks team officials recently. On Wednesday, Hayne did not identify which NFL clubs — if any — were interested in offering him a tryout.
“Today I can officially announce that I will be heading to the United States to pursue an opportunity to play American football,” Hayne said. “I’ll be a free agent. It will give me the opportunity to go over there and train and potentially, hopefully, play NFL one day.”
Hayne has been part of the Parramatta club since he was 13, and decided he needed a new challenge.
“I’m always telling people to chase their dreams and follow their hearts — if I don’t live by that I’m not being honest with myself,” he said. “I’m so passionate about the challenge that lies ahead for me, not only as an athlete but more so as a person. It’s the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life … but for me to grow as an athlete and a person I feel this is the right step to take.”
Hayne said if he was unsuccessful in his bid to break into the NFL and returned to rugby league, he’d rejoin Parramatta.
“I’m leaving knowing that I have signed a ‘lifetime agreement’ with the Eels, so if I return to the NRL, it will be to Parramatta,” he said.
Renowned for his acceleration and counter-attacking prowess in the rugby league, Hayne said he believes he has the skills to make it as either a punt returner or kick returner.
“I believe I have the speed, I’m a quick learner, I feel things out really quickly,” he said. “I have no doubt it’s going to be tough. Ultimately it’s a 12-month plan, going over there and trying to make a train-on team. For me to do that I need to start preparing for that around January or February.” The 2014 NFL season is underway, so he’s aiming for 2015.
Hayne travelled to the United States for a personal tour of the Seahawks and University of Washington Huskies’ operations in September, less than three months after speaking to Fairfax Media in Australia about his desire to play American football.
He had two training sessions with UTS, a Sydney-based American football team, at the end of the 2013 NRL season and said “it’s something that excites me.”
“I actually spoke to Reggie Bush in depth about it when he was over here,” he told Fairfax in July. “We were talking about different plays, what Detroit was like, what Miami was like and New Orleans was like. It interests me.”
Previously linked with moves to play Australian Rules football, Hayne — dubbed the “Hayne Plane” — was one of the most marketable and valuable properties in the NRL and could have commanded one of the most lucrative contracts in the sport.
He was crucial in leading New South Wales to its drought-breaking win in the State of Origin series this year, ending Queensland’s eight-year reign as champion in the biggest grudge match in the sport, and helped Parramatta move up the NRL standings.
Hayne’s agent, Wayne Beavis, told The Associated Press that his player’s “power and speed” made Hayne perfect for the NFL and “he’ll even be able to wear a helmet and pads.” In rugby league, no helmets are worn and shoulder gear is lightweight and optional.
Hayne said he’d been considering the move for more than two years, and thought he probably should have made his decision 12 months ago.
“I’ve known the deadline has been looming for me to make this call,” he said, “and I believe the right time is now.”