Jarryd Hayne may not be a household name in the U.S. just yet, but that’s going to change soon. The 26-year-old Australian athlete is to rugby what LeBron James is to basketball these days – but only bigger.
However, in a press conference on Wednesday, Hayne shocked everyone by announcing that he is quitting rugby league to try his luck in football – American football that is.
"For the past 24 months I’ve been thinking about having a crack in the NFL, and over the last 12 months I’ve been seriously considering it," Hayne told a shell-shocked group of journalists. "Today I can officially announce that I will be heading to the United States to pursue an opportunity to play American football. I will be withdrawing from the Kangaroos Four Nations side immediately, and accepting a conditional release from the Eels to make the move overseas."
It's not an everyday occurrence that a major sports star decides he has had enough, packs his bag and leaves to play a different sport. After all, life in sports today has become so technical that just the required physical attributes don't cut it. But in Hayne's case switching over to football does make a lot of sense.
As big as rugby league is Down Under, even its elite talent gets paid a couple of hundred thousand dollars in annual wages at best. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers earns $22 million every season, which is exclusive of the endorsement money that comes from playing in the biggest professional sports league in the world. Even if Hayne lands a bit part role on an average NFL roster, it will greatly boost his bank balance.
From a sporting standpoint too, Hayne's unique blend of speed and toughness needs testing at a stage much bigger than the rugby league can provide.
One of the biggest crossover stories the world of sports has ever seen is of course of Michael Jordan. When the then three-time world champion left his familiar hunting ground for a shot at baseball in 1993, it made little sense. MJ's skill set – apart from his mental toughness and champion's will – had nothing in common with a bat and ball game. He failed miserably at it, returned to the NBA and enlarged his legacy some more.
Hayne too is a similarly gifted athlete who could've gone down as the greatest ever in rugby league, had he let his career run its due course. However, unlike Jordan's, his crossing over into a new discipline should – at least on paper – be a lot more smoother, thanks to football and rugby league's similar nature.