It’s been 10 months in the making but today Jarryd Hayne showed Australia and the USA what he was made of as he played his first NFL game for the 49ers in Houston, Texas today. Plenty of fans tuned in today as the following weeks will determine his future. He certainly made an impression.
I’ll begin by explaining that the match he was involved in was a pre-season game for the NFL which are not considered as high standard as regular season games and are often used as trials to determine rosters (teams) for the regular season. Generally most teams will begin with most of their stars on the field to make a cameo appearance and to make sure they haven’t lost anything in the offseason. After one or two drives (the set of consecutive plays that either result in a change over of possession or scoring points) they will usually switch to the lower quality players that are fighting for roster positions. This is where Hayne was slotted in. The primary positions he was being tested for were running back and punt and kick-off returns. These positions have the most similar skill set to a rugby league fullback.
The highlight of the game was Hayne’s 53 yard rush from the running back position where he found space and managed to stay upright after an attempted ankle tap from a defender. He did very well to find the space and not fall over and if he hadn’t almost tripped he would’ve almost certainly scored a touchdown. The rest of his 5 rushes showed off strength and agility to gain metres. His kick-off returns were also very good as he managed to break first tackles.
While it was an impressive first showing it is worth noting that the defenders Hayne was up against were not the highest quality NFL defenders. It is evident that his skill set is of a very high standard and well suited to the NFL. The issue with Hayne’s game is that you can tell he is not entirely accustomed to the sport which would be expected but it could be enough to stop him from making the 53 man roster. He looked lost without the ball in situations where he should have been blocking. His kick-off return was impressive because he caught the ball deep and made the decision to try to run the ball which paid off for him, many other players would not have made the same decision. The bad part of his kick-off return was when he reached a point where his path was blocked by defenders instead of rushing towards the sideline to gain the extra few metres he ran sideways in-field trying to break tackles which was reflective of his rugby league instincts. In that situation that is not the best option. People were also shocked when he took a rather hard hit from a defender after receiving a pass and fumbling the ball. Fortunately the pass was judged incomplete so the 49ers kept the ball. Hayne was not entirely at fault as the pass option from the quarter-back was a bad option.
While the natural ability is certainly there, which everyone acknowledged, there is still the worry that his inexperience in the sport could be detrimental if he was to play a regular season game. Because of this I worry that Hayne will not make the roster this year but will be encouraged to continue training in the sport for a chance in the future as he becomes more accustomed to the sport. At the moment it seems Hayne will be fighting for a fourth string running back position or a first or second string return specialist position. If he manages to make the team he will probably not get very much screen time but if he doesn’t make the team he could either end up disappearing in the USA for half a year or some like to speculate the Roosters might be able to persuade him to return to the NRL. There are still three more pre-season games to be played so he will have plenty of time to prove himself or for other players to make mistakes.