Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne is swapping the rugby pitch for the gridiron.
Several months after announcing his retirement from Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) and the Parramatta Eels, the 2014 Player of the Year has signed a three-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Despite never having played professional American football, the 27-year-old had also attracted interest from a number of other teams, including Super Bowl runners-up Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions.
Ultimately, however, he chose San Francisco as his destination, not least because new coach Jim Tomsula has experience working with overseas players, having previously helmed the Rhine Fire in the NFL Europe league.
“He was probably the one coach that knew the transition better than anyone,” Hayne said in a press conference.
The 6’ 2”, 226 lb New South Wales native ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash in a December workout. NFL analyst Daniel Jeremy tweeted his support, saying that he believed Hayne has “an excellent chance” of becoming an excellent punt/kickoff returner.
Despite this, the Australian said he was aware of the chances he was taking.
“This is a huge risk,” NFL.com reported Hayne as saying. “I’m taking a massive leap of faith.”
As is his new team. Along with a reported guaranteed $100,000 payday, the 49ers – Super Bowl runners-up in 2013 – are taking a punt on an untested prospect, albeit one who will not disrupt their roster, or salary cap.
In 2014, Hayne won the NRL’s Dally M awards for Player of the Year, Best Fullback, Top Tryscorer and Representative Player. He has previously won Dally M recognition, most notably in 2009 as Player of the Year.
In nine years with the Eels, he scored 103 tries.
He made the decision to switch sports in October last year, saying at the time: “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.”
Despite his lack of hands-on football experience, his new team are confident that his background means that he will be a quick learner.
“Hayne comes from an athletic family as his father, Manoa Thompson, is a former professional rugby league player who represented Fiji on the national rugby team,” the 49ers said in a statement.