Jarryd Hayne is set to dominate Australian news cycles once again after making the shock announcement he is quitting the San Francisco 49ers to pursue a spot in Fiji’s Rugby Seven squad for the Rio Olympics.
The former Parramatta Eels superstar stunned the sporting world in 2014 when he quit the NRL to chase an NFL dream. Against the odds, Hayne was picked up by the 49ers and played eight games as a return specialist and running back.
He was waived by the 49ers in October, however, and joined the franchise’s practice squad, before being promoted to the 53-man roster again after guard Alex Boone was placed on their injured reserve list.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) May 15, 2016
But with his NFL prospects on tenterhooks, the 28-year-old appears to have abandoned the American dream for the lure of an Olympic Gold Medal, linking with the Fiji Sevens squad this week ahead of the London Sevens – the last stop on the IRB World Sevens circuit.
Hayne released a statement following today’s announcement:
“I’d like to thank Jed and the entire York family for giving me the opportunity to fulfil my dream of playing in the National Football League,” Hayne said.
“I also want to thank Trent (San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke) and his staff, as well as Jim Tomsula, Tom Rathman and the other coaches who invested in me to make this dream a reality.
“I’d also like to thank coach (Chip) Kelly for the opportunity to come back this year.
“The support and understanding from the 49ers organisation was unbelievable when I let them know about my decision to pursue another dream.
“The past 12 months with the San Francisco 49ers have been absolutely incredible.
“I could not have predicted how far I have come as an NFL player.
“To not only be able to play in a game but also say that I started a game in the NFL is something that I will remember for a lifetime.
— Jarryd Hayne Apparel (@JHayneApparel) May 15, 2016
“I am retiring from the NFL because the Fiji rugby sevens team reached out to me about the opportunity to join the team for the upcoming Olympics, and I simply could not pass that chance up.
“The Olympics has been something I have admired since I was a little boy, and it is an opportunity I feel very similar to me joining the NFL.
“The 49ers organisation has been incredibly supportive throughout my journey and I cannot thank them and the support staff enough.
“I am especially grateful to the strength and conditioning coaches, trainers and medical staff, equipment guys, public relations crew, chefs, logistics, and merchandise staff for their countless hours helping me in many different ways, so I could focus on football.
“Thank you to the fans from down under, as well as those around the world, who stood behind me and supported me along this amazing journey.
“I also want to thank the boys, especially my running back brothers, for their help and support in my transition to the NFL.
“I wish the team nothing but the best for the upcoming season.
“Last but not least, I would like to thank the 49ers faithful for your unwavering support.
“From day one you have always been in my corner and I can’t thank you enough for the love you’ve shown for the kid from down under.
“Signing off, your mate, number 38.”
— NFL (@NFL) May 15, 2016
Hayne represented Fiji with distinction at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, while he played 11 Tests for Australia from 2007-13.
Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan has refused to guarantee Hayne an Olympics spot, despite welcoming him into the squad in London.
Fiji has been a perennial dominant force on the Sevens Rugby scene; they are the defending IRB World Rugby Sevens Series champions, and lead the competition heading into the final tournament this year.
Hayne doesn’t fit the usual mould of the long-striding Fiji Sevens player, but although he has no top-level rugby union experience, there’s no doubt he would bring a certain X-factor and aura to the team.
“I have no promises he is going to make the 12 (for London), but we will see how he goes,” Englishman Ryan said in the wake of Hayne’s bombshell.
“He will then come into Fijian camp for the Olympic period.
“It is a huge challenge for Jarryd but if he gets into the squad it is only going to be on form, because he is a blinding rugby player.
“If he doesn’t make it, is just shows how good this Fijian sevens side is.
“It is a no lose situation for me.
“It is no lose for Jarryd either, he gets himself into the possibility of being a part of this journey, and the boys are all going to learn off him as well.”
Speculation about Hayne’s post-Olympics move will be one of the hottest topics in coming months. The ARU and Australia’s Super Rugby franchises are sure to make a big play for Hayne given he has entered the union realm, with the carrot of the 2019 World Cup – either with the Wallabies or Fiji – potentially a decisive factor.
An NRL return seems even more likely, given a premiership ring eluded the blockbusting fullback during his 176-game career with Parramatta. But the Eels, embroiled in a salary-cap mess, would seem long-shots to regain their former marquee man.
The Sydney Roosters loom as favourites for Hayne’s signature if he comes back to the NRL fold, with the club in the rare position of having plenty of room to move under the salary cap – though Hayne has already moved to quash those rumours again this morning.
🙄🙄🙄 you an your mates been thinking that for 14months https://t.co/etly6hrweE
— jarryd hayne (@JarrydHayne) May 15, 2016