Aussie rugby league star Hayne chases American NFL dream

The 26 year-old is one of Australian sport’s highest paid players but he’s leaving it all behind

Parramatta Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne sent shockwaves through Australian sport today when he announced he is quitting the world's richest rugby league competition to pursue his dream of playing in America's NFL.

The 26-year-old, one rugby league's highest-paid players, broke down and wept at a media conference where he said he was leaving his long-time Sydney club to head to the United States for a shot at breaking into the NFL as a free agent.

“For the past 24 months I’ve been thinking about having a crack in the NFL. In the past 12 months, I’ve been seriously considering it,” Hayne, a joint winner of the NRL’s ‘Dally M’ award as the player of the season, told reporters.

“I’m excited about the potential opportunities that lie ahead ... I believe right now the time is right. It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.


“I know a lot of people are going to take it a different way. I didn’t feel like (my career) was challenging me to the point where I’ll now be challenged.”

Raised in government housing in the hard-scrabble suburb of Minto in Sydney's working class west, the 6ft 2in (1.88m) Hayne's rise to National Rugby League (NRL) stardom is one of Australian sport's more celebrated rags-to-riches stories.

Versatile, skilled and fast, Hayne’s effectiveness as a fullback in rugby league might mean his best chance of success in the NFL would be converting to a running back or as a return specialist.

Whichever position he tries for, it will be a leap into the unknown for Hayne, who declared he had fielded no interest from any NFL teams.

"Ultimately I think offence would be the easiest transition ... the easiest transition would be a punt returner or kick returner," said Hayne, who has also pulled out of the national Kangaroos squad for the Four Nations tournament with England, New Zealand and Samoa.

"This isn't going to be an easy transition and I'm aware of that." Hayne will head to California with no shortage of goodwill, with a long list of regional sports celebrities sending their encouragement and best wishes.

"Chase those dreams my bro," New Zealander Sonny Bill Williams, a success in both the NRL and rugby union for the All Blacks, tweeted.

A number of Australians have carved out careers in the NFL since track and field athlete Colin Ridgeway broke ground with a handful of games for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s.

Indigenous football code Australian Rules, which places a premium on kicking skills, has produced a number of NFL punters including San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer Darren Bennett, and Saverio Rocca became the NFL's oldest rookie at the age of 33 when he debuted for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007.

No Australian in top-flight rugby league has ever made the switch, however, and Hayne said he would return to Parramatta if his 12-month project to win a deal fell through.

“I’m a kid from Minto and my whole dream was to buy my mum a house and I did that and I guess everything else has been a bonus,” he said.

“The journey of going over there and having a crack in the NFL is far greater than anything here.”