While the hype surrounding Jarryd Hayne could have some believing that he is the only Australian to have ever played in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals have quietly signed ex-AFL player Joel Wilkinson to their pre-season roster. But while most players with an AFL background tend to be suited as punters, after 5 months of training in Phoenix, Wilkinson is signed as a cornerback.
At the Suns Wilkinson played mostly as a defensive mid-field tagger, meaning that just like the cornerback position, Wilkinson’s role was to stop opposition players from receiving and using the ball. But this is not to say that Wilkinson will be expecting his transitions to NFL to be an easy one. He was recently quoted on the Cardinals website as saying that he has a lot to “improve on and prepare for,” but stated that he’s ready for the challenge.
Debuting for the Suns in 2011, Wilkinson played 26 games and reportedly held the record as the strongest Queensland AFL player. Wilkinson beat Brisbane Lion, Jonathon Brown’s bench press record when he benched 160kgs three times.
Likewise, Wilksinson also held the record as the quickest player over two kilometres at the Gold Coast Suns. Standing at 186cms and 86kgs, it’s this combination of strength and speed that will be of interest to the Cardinals.
During his time at the Suns, Wilkinson was also the target of a racist attack from a Collingwood Football Club member. Following reports from Wilkinson, opposition players and other Collingwood Football Club members, the offender had his membership of 20 years revoked and conditions placed on its renewal.
After Wilkinson was delisted from the Gold Coast Suns in 2013, he went onto play 27 games with VFL side the Northern Bullants. However, mid-way through the 2015 season, Wilkinson announced his retirement from Australian Rules football citing his intention to pursue an NFL career.
— Northern Blues FC (@NBluesFC) February 17, 2016
But regardless of his physical attributes, as the Jarryd Hayne experiment is showing, physical attribute alone are not enough to make an impact in the NFL. Wilkinson will be competing for a place on the Cardinal’s active roster against others who have been playing NFL their entire life.
Likewise, many other rookies vying for a spot will have had four years playing College football, and hence have the knowledge and experience that comes with playing in a high quality and competitive environment under experienced coaches and managers.
But despite this, Wilkinson will give us another Aussie to look out for in the pre-season as a Jarryd Hayne, Jordan Berry, and Brad Wing attempt to prove they’re worth another season on active rosters. Likewise, Jessie Williams has been given the all clear from cancer, meaning he will be in the running for a place in the Seattle Seahawks. And rookie draft hopefuls Adam Gotsis, Tom Hackett and Brad Craddock also add to the list of Aussie’s who we may see on the field in the 2016 season.