Melburnians could be forgiven for not caring about ex rugby-league player Jarryd Hayne.
In our AFL bubble, it’s easy to forget there are people who have successfully swapped codes – after all, Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau have been unsuccessful in their attempts to move from rugby to AFL.
Hayne has banked his reputation on the move from Rugby League to America’s National Football League, jumping on a plane to San Francisco to try and crack into the 49ers 53-man squad.
So far, he’s barely put a foot wrong.
Ex-AFL player Saverio Rocca played seven NFL seasons across two clubs, and said Hayne has the right build to compete with born-and-raised gridiron players.
“I think he’s doing great,” Rocca said.
“For an Australian to go over there and play a ‘skilled position’ is fantastic.”
“He certainly has the physical attributes to compete with those guys over there.”
After impressing San Francisco’s coaches during the 49ers’ draft camp, Hayne has been a part of two preseason games so far, impressing commentators and former-greats like John Madden with his pace and agility.
In the 49ers’ first pre-season hitout against the Houston Texans, Hayne managed a 53-yard (48-metre) run before he was pushed across the sideline.
His second match was even more impressive: playing as a punt returner, Hayne opened the game by running back with the flight and catching a massive punt, before taking off and carrying the ball 25 metres up the field.
To prove that wasn’t a fluke, Hayne carried the second punt 31 metres, wrong footing the entire Dallas defence before being brought down by the punter.
Considering the 49ers averaged just 10 metres on punt returns last year, Hayne offers up something that San Fransisco’s lineup desperately needs – a returner capable of breaking the game open.
In spite of his excellent showing so far, Rocca says Hayne might still miss out on a spot in the 49ers final 53-man squad.
“He’s probably performed well, and above what everyone expected here, but considering that they’re looking for are the best of the best it’s hard to say whether he’ll make the roster,” Rocca said.
“I think it’s going to be hard to make the 53 man – I think that he’ll be on the verge of that or possibly practice squad for a year or two, until he learns more of the instinct of the game,” he said.
Although Rocca isn’t sure about Hayne’s chances this year, his story is one that we should all be following.
What he’s doing is the equivalent of a soccer player kicking goals in his second-ever AFL NAB Cup game, or a baseballer making a ton in his second Sheffield Shield game.
Rugby player or not, Hayne has been labelled the “story of the preseason” by NFL commentators.
He’s someone you’re going to be hearing a lot more about, so do yourself a favour and get on board the “Hayne Plane.”