Thursday 16 October 2014

Why Jarryd Hayne taking aim at the NFL is great news for Rugby League

Is Jarryd Hayne about to become Australia's next Cinderella story?
2014 National Rugby League Premiership
By W D Nicolson - October 16, 2014

Let's start off by being honest - Jarryd Hayne's decision to head to the USA and pursue his dream of playing in the NFL sucks for Parramatta.

Now that the only negative is out of the way - here are the positives:

For the game of Rugby League this is a 109 yard touchdown return of epic proportions if he can in fact make it to the NFL level. In the space of 12 months the interest level from athletes in the USA in our game could skyrocket - and the current NFL to NRL legacy that is Greg Smith may be re-written by an actual NFL player.

For Hayne himself - I love the fact he's taking this challenge on - but the road to the NFL is going to be extremely tough... unless the management team at the Seattle Seahawks have been planning this conversion for as long as Hayne claims he's been pondering the move (approx 12 months he revealed at yesterday's presser). 

From ESPN:
"Our scout Down Under has been on this for some time now," Seattle coach Pete Carroll. 

"But he's an incredible athlete and a great competitor, so we'll see where it goes. I'm afraid to mention anything because I'm not sure of the rights things and contract issues down there. We'll leave that up to [Seahawks general manager] John [Schneider] to figure out."

So judging by these quotes from ESPN... they are either having fun with the story or may actually be serious about adding Hayne.

After reading the above - you can't help but feel like Hayne might actually be closer to a practice squad than anyone wants to believe.

However - even if the Seahawks are legit - for Hayne is to have any kind of chance of making an appearance in the NFL before the end of 2015 - no I didn't say 2014 - then he probably needs to be on their practice squad before the end of this current season. 

What does being on the practice squad mean? Find out here.

If the Seahawks are just messing around - then Hayne needs another coach to take a massive punt on him as an athlete and back his ability to learn the game on the run if he is about to be 'one step' from his NFL dream.

But adding Hayne to a practice squad is a bigger gamble on the part of the NFL team that makes that call than anything Hayne has done in the past 24 hours. 

While practice squad rules entitle teams to hold onto up to two international players - they will still be taking reps (even at practice) away from NFL-ready depth on the same practice squad. Jarryd isn't the only non-US player who wants to play in the NFL - just this pre-season, Geraldo Boldewijn (a kid from Amsterdam) missed out on a spot on the Atlanta Falcons not because of his ability but because he got hurt in the final pre-season game. In short - there is international talent out there already.

The NFL is so cut-throat for coaches that if they make a call to add a 26 year old athlete who is untested and uneducated in the game he's trying to crack - then they could be risking their careers by not keeping NFL-ready depth on their practice squad - even for the 'meaningless' final games of the 2014 NFL season in December. 

In the NFL - coaches lose their jobs based on their final record as much as a bad two or four week period late in the season if an owner thinks things are going badly... 

Take Tampa Bay's Lovie Smith for example. He was hired by the Buccaneers to right the ship in Tampa and there was even 'Super Bowl' talk from some NFL experts - let alone climbing to the top of a division that featured the regular contenders the New Orleans Saints, a team that made the playoffs last year in the Carolina Panthers and a team that was a contender as recently as 2013 in the Atlanta Falcons.

Smith's Bucs were heralded for their defensive side of the ball entering the year... but a number of key injuries and 34 points against per game - they are 1-5 and languishing at the bottom of the NFC.

So as much as some ill-advised logic may say 'hey the Bucs might take a chance on Hayne because they suck' - the reality is for Smith and his staff - they can't look to the future entirely... they have to win to keep their jobs. Finishing 3-13 is incredibly that much better than being 2-14 if you end the season with 2 wins in your final 3 games. So there's no guarantee of any of the other 31 teams not named Seattle giving Hayne a go.

So where will Hayne land?

If Seattle really liked what they saw - he could get the fairytale gig on the Seahawks' practice squad. And truthfully - that would be as big an achievement by an Australian in world sport in recent memory. 

Seriously - it would be nothing short of incredible.

If that doesn't happen, then from my limited knowledge - his best scenario (beyond amazingly getting a practice squad gig ahead of actual NFL-ready free agents - I repeat that because of how crazy it will be if it happens) is to latch onto a college team and learn the game for the rest of the year.

You'd hope he doesn't need any cash to get through the next 12 months and getting educated on the game rather than actually playing the game may be his biggest asset entering the extremely long NFL pre-season.

If he can learn the game and get actual coaching in the team environment then he has a chance... if he is stuck 'working out' for the next 6 months then I have little doubt he'll be back in the NRL by early 2015... but if those helping him make the transition identify the best fit for him is latching onto a college team program - then maybe, maybe - he's got a chance in 2015 to do training camp (or OTAs) with an actual NFL team.

I want him to succeed - but he may have to bide his time and his first chance in the NFL may not come til the 2016 NFL season - even if the above college-training camp route works out for him. 

And Rugby League wants him to as well - because if the early media reaction in the USA is any indication - a lot of players who currently don't have a gig in the NFL will be looking at the NRL as a potential option... just like Hayne sees the NFL as his next challenge.

From ESPN:
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman also was asked if Hayne could do it.

"It depends on what position he is trying to play," Sherman said. "If he can adjust and grasp the strategic part of the game, I think he would do fine. That's to be seen."

And could Sherman play rugby?

"I don't know," Sherman said. "I don't really know the rules to rugby, but I think I'd do all right."

So get excited - The Hayne Plane is about to help Rugby League take off in the USA - because people will want to know about him and where he came from and most importantly - what he did to give himself reason to believe he could make it in the NFL.

And if Jarryd makes it to the big dance at some point in the next two years - then that's just the cherry on top.

Good Luck sir!

Shoot us a tweet via @NRLTweet with your view on Hayne's move to the NFL or the impact his move will have on the NRL's appeal in the USA.
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