The Hayne Plane might be experiencing some heavy turbulence at the moment, but it doesn’t matter if he lands or not. The former Parramatta Eels dynamo has already achieved what no other Australian has managed previously by breaking down the barrier for athletes down under to succeed at something other than punting in the National Football League.
Hayne’s ascension to the 49ers 53-man roster is culminating with a host of NFL scouts booking their flights to England for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Once upon a time code switching used to be a taboo subject, now it seems ridiculous if they don’t entertain a different sport when their contract winds down. Taking into account the limited amount of currency an athlete has on the open market, an agent would be neglecting their client’s interests if they didn’t return a call from the NFL state side.
To narrow our search and cut the list down to the best of the best Australia can offer requires unique athletic attributes that align with the Jarryd Hayne model. These players must have a proven track record of taking the high ball under pressure, thrive in contact situations, be evasive to defenders and have respect from their peers. Punt returners and running backs get a limited window compared to the NRL, AFL and Super Rugby to showcase their talents, so they better be good.
Here are 5 athletes we believe the NFL should be targeting in Australia.
- Taqele Naiyaravoro
The huge Fijian native was incredibly unfortunate to miss out on the Wallabies World Cup squad when Michael Cheika made his final cull. Towering at 6ft 4 and 123kgs, Taqele Naiyaravoro made a successful switch to union when his rugby league career at the Wests Tigers stalled. The winger made a reputation for himself running over the top of defenders in the mold of Jonah Lomu vintage 1995. At the tender age of 23 Naiyaravoro has 4 years on Hayne and has the time for NFL coaches to fit him into their system. Would be utterly devastating when handed the ball to crash through a defensive blitz.
- Greg Inglis
There is nothing left for G.I. to prove in rugby league. Multiple Grand Final wins with two different clubs, State of Origin series wins and titles with the Australian Kangaroos; Greg Inglis is already a legend of the game. If he had the appetite to travel to America and see how the gridiron feels in his hands, the possibilities are endless. The boy from Kempsey in Northern NSW is only fractionally older than Jarryd at 28, but has the superior frame at 6ft 5 and 105kg. Hayne made shock waves with his palm off in preseason football, yet any NRL fan will tell you no palm compares to Inglis’ powerful left fend. He would make a huge impact with a shepherding guard in front of him.
- Henry Speight
It would be unfair to give Henry Speight a pair of pads and helmet to make him a bigger missile than he already is. Another Fijian-born rugby natural, Speight went one better than Naiyaravoro to earn a spot in Cheika’s squad after a series of impressive seasons with the ACT Brumbies. The flying winger appears to hold a more modest build at 6ft 1 and 97kg, but don’t let that fool you. The man with the 1970s afro and killer moustache has that quality you can’t train for – explosive pace off the mark. Speight is in the prime of his career at 27 and if Australia isn’t successful in England this year he could see the NFL as a suitable destination.
- Nat Fyfe
There is a reason Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe is the unbackable favourite to clean up at the Brownlow Medal this year. Nothing is off limits for the 24-year-old midfield dynamo. Kicking right foot, left foot, speeding past defenders, making big tackles and taking “speckie” marks, Fyfe is the complete package. At 6ft 2 and 93kg he has the size to cope with heavy contact, the only question would be his ability to adapt away from the one game he has played all his life. Administrators at AFL HQ would have sleepless nights if their biggest asset walked away from the sport, but no one expected Jarryd Hayne to do likewise to the NRL.
- Israel Folau
Probably not the most original idea in the world, but clearly the most obvious. We know what you’re thinking – not another code switch! Israel Folau has made jumping codes something of an art form in recent years, moving from the NRL to AFL before settling on rugby union. He is one of the biggest draw cards at England 2015, possessing the uncanny ability to fend off tacklers with the smallest of touches. The best in the business at defusing bombs in the air, “Izzy” makes the roughest sports in the world look like child’s play. What separates Folau from the rest of these candidates would be his price tag because rugby union would fight tooth and nail to keep their star man.