Jarryd Hayne quitting the NFL was biggest balls-up in Aussie sport

By Jai Bednall of News.com.au

Jarryd Hayne. Photo / AP
Jarryd Hayne. Photo / AP

I turned off the notifications I get when Jarryd Hayne posts something on Twitter today.

As a sports journalist, staying abreast of everything the most newsworthy athletes in Australia and the rest of the world are saying is part of the job - and in today's social media age that means following them all on Twitter.

But there's only a select few who are so popular with news.com.au readers I need an alert on the screen of my iPhone whenever they tweet. Nick Kyrgios was one of them until he blocked me (who knows why, you could hardly describe me as a hater). Since quitting rugby league in October, 2014, Hayne has been another.

I was in Las Vegas covering UFC 200 last week so was a little out of the loop when the former NFL running back announced he was not going to make the Fiji Sevens team for the Rio Olympics.

My first thought upon hearing the news was "not another one". I'm going to Brazil to cover the Games and am beginning to tire of hearing reports athletes I was looking forward to watching - LeBron James, Steph Curry, Jason Day, Sally Pearson, the list goes on - aren't going to be there.

But after a couple of days back in Australia, I can't shake the feeling that Hayne's decision to quit the NFL to pursue a spot in Rio is one of the biggest balls-ups I can remember.

Again, I'll stress I'm not even remotely anti-Hayne. Covering his journey from Parramatta to San Francisco was as enjoyable as any story I've covered in my 11-year career.

I've been an NFL follower (make that, Green Bay Packers fan) since childhood but outside of the Super Bowl, Hayne was the prime reason my working week began involving 4am starts to cover games live. And it was exhilarating. I'm sure thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of Australians felt the same.

But I doubt I'll tune into many 49ers games when the season starts in September, and why? Because Hayne decided to sacrifice his opportunity to play in the best sporting competition in the world for a five-game Sevens career that was about as memorable as the beard he attempted growing during his days in Santa Clara.

One largely-held view is Hayne could see the writing on the wall under Chip Kelly and jumped before he was pushed. That would explain a lot - and make his decision to link up with Fiji a whole lot easier to understand.

But Hayne has never said that. During his departure he insisted it had nothing to do with his ability to make the 49ers' 53-man roster - even taking issue with a reporter who suggested otherwise.

As recently as this month he said leaving behind Kelly's offence was the toughest part of his move.

"I knew that if I had stayed there I would have succeeded and taken my game to the next level," Hayne told The Spin Off.

So, until he says otherwise, I'll maintain the view that he had just as good a chance of making San Francisco's team as he did the season before - perhaps better given the experience he'd gained - and maintain my disappointment at his decision to throw it away.

Hayne isn't the first athlete to make a surprise code switch and fail. Michael Jordan didn't exactly set the baseball world on fire. Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt won't finish in the AFL Hall of Fame. But MJ had already achieved pretty much everything there was to achieve in basketball before joining the Birmingham Barons. And at least Izzy and Karmichael got paid.

Hayne may be completely genuine when he says he would have regretted it for the rest of his life if he didn't attempt to make the Fijian Olympic team. But everything we've learnt since he took the plunge is that it was a Fool's Dream. He was never making that team. Fiji is just too good. There was too much to learn in too little time.

Surely the Fijian team - led by coach Ben Ryan - knew this too. It's equally hard to understand their motivation for bringing Hayne in. I'm sure he was a positive influence on the group but I don't think they'll be crediting the Hayne Plane if they win gold in Rio.

I just hope they made it abundantly clear how minuscule his chances were of making the team when the decision was made to try out. Because he sacrificed a lot to join them.

Hayne's future remains undecided but there's no doubt an athlete as talented as he is will land on his feet. But a career in the NRL or rugby - whether it's in Australia or overseas - would have still been there if he'd tried and failed in San Francisco.

So at the end of the day it's hard not to believe Hayne has lost more than he's gained through this ill-fated move.

In a Facebook post announcing he had failed to make the team, the deeply-religious man spoke about God calling him to Fiji.

"It was hard to comprehend and understand at first why I came here? Why God put me here, but deep down I knew there was a reason and a purpose," Hayne wrote. "God takes you places not so you can achieve what you set out for, but to play a part and help something greater than yourself."

Perhaps there was a deeper purpose behind his decision - one that's not even completely clear to the 28-year-old himself at this point.

But personally - and this is pure speculation because other than a brief interview in the 49ers locker room last year I haven't spent any time with Hayne - it wouldn't surprise me if he's privately regretting it either.

He'll never know what he could have achieved in the NFL. What if he made the team again? What if he became a starter? Played three or four seasons? Featured in a Super Bowl? The platform he would have been elevated to would have helped him spread the Gospel to far more people than he'll reach now.

It's unlikely Hayne will ever dominate the Australian sporting landscape quite like he did during the 2015-16 summer. And I think that bothers him. A lot of his behaviour indicates he likes the spotlight. And the lights just aren't as bright on Saturday arvos in Parramatta as they are on Monday nights in San Francisco.

- news.com.au

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