PARRAMATTA – A bombshell hit Australian Rugby League and the NRL this week. It was a payload delivered by a man affectionately known as ‘The Plane.’ The irony is painful.
‘In my career I bought my Mum a house, and everything else was just a bonus.’
With these words Jarryd Hayne, the 27-year old former Parramatta Eels and Australian player, quit the NRL for the American NFL, a change not only of country but also of sport. Exit stage left, the man who has won two of the annual Dally M Medal Awards (MVP for the season). A man whose highlight reel is longer than most people’ total rugby careers. Many would argue he has been consistently the best NRL Player for the last four or five years (maybe even longer!). He has played every single backline position in rugby league, has a siege gun boot, and twinkle toes that dim even the stars. And just like a comet, he has burned so brightly and yet all too briefly.
His loss will be a knife-thrust under the guard of the Parramatta Eels, for whom he has been talismanic almost since his debut season in 2006. He has dragged them, kicking and screaming, through more matches than many can count. There have been all too many moments in the Eels recent past, where some critics have claimed he was their only asset, and what is more the only man who could win them matches. And just as they were starting to feel like they were settling down with their next generation of talent signed, talent that might have huge potential, they lose their icon. Such is life and far worse, such is sport.
His loss to the Australian National Side will indeed be a nasty blow, but by no means as bad as the one that has been dealt to the Eels. Hayne has been an important feature within the Kangaroos for many years, however he was always moved around their backline such were his prodigious skills. This means that there is cover throughout all the positions he might have played. Some may argue that his loss will allow a fringe player like Dylan Walker or Will Chambers to bloom in the centre berth that Hayne once occupied.
But the most devastating effect of his loss, will be felt by the New South Wales Blues State of Origin squad. Having finally wrested the State of Origin shield from their Queensland counterparts this year after 8 years of drought, the Blues have now lost their heartbeat. Make no mistake Hayne has been one of the rare bright spots in the last 8 years for the men in blue, and this year was no exception. He almost single-handedly won them Game One and was instrumental in their close loss in Game Two and finally put in another sterling performance for the final tiebreaker delivering the Shield to NSW. All that heartache over, finally a victory, and they lose their superstar. If you want to define a hammer blow loss to a team, go and ask Coach Laurie Daley what he thinks of Hayne’s defection to the NFL.
The support from the Rugby League community has been unanimous, from writers to players such as former Eels teammate Daniel Mortimer, current Eels captain Tim Mannah, cross coder Sonny Bill Williams, veteran props Willie Mason, George Rose and even Rugby Union’s very own maverick Danny Cipriani.
And what of his new career? Some have argued he will be a punt returner (although he can punt as well), a running back could be an option, his natural rugby skills might make him adept at running through the traffic of the line of scrimmage. A wide receiver is an outside possibility, he has exceptional ‘measurables’ as in his jumping, hands and size. However, his out and out speed may limit him within that position. A few have argued that his rugby defence skills would best be put to use at safety, so he can mark the other team’s speedsters and bring them down.
A recent article on the RugbyWrapUp about Sam Burgess’s code switch drew a question from one observer, who asked if rugby league, with the loss of SBW, and Burgess was losing all its stars to other codes. It was a foolish suggestion at the time, however with the loss of Hayne there might be a strong argument to say that if one or two more stars defect, then rugby league may well be bereft of an entire generation of the much-vaunted and flaunted superstars of their game. One thing is certain, the NRL will now be on high alert for any more murmurings of players wanting to leave rugby league, regardless of what code they want to go to.
As for this young kid who comes from the small Sydney suburb of Minto, well what can we say… if anybody is going to make it in the NFL, it’s you Jarryd.
Ladies and Gentlemen stand and applaud; the Hayne Plane will be leaving the terminal shortly.