Rugby league player turned American football star?


Like during most NFL games, I usually receive a fair amount of tweets from people asking me what I thought about a certain play, a given player’s movement mechanics, and the like.

However, Saturday night was a bit different. Not only was it a Preseason game night (where many fans have many better things to do vs. “the more meaningful” regular season games), but it was also the long-awaited NFL debut of a given player. If you are thinking to yourself, “Yeah, obviously Jameis Winston opened his NFL career,” you would be incorrect in who I am referring to (though I actually was watching Winston play here in MN at the time).

Instead, I am talking about Australian rugby league player turned NFL roster hopeful, Jarryd Hayne.

Hayne pic 1

And on that evening, it seems as though many of my International Rugby Coaching contacts were anxiously paying attention to a typically mundane preseason game in Houston to see how this guy was going to do and the flag he could carry for the sport of rugby.

Fortunately for these fans (and for Hayne’s chances of making the team), the rugby league star did not disappoint. He not only rattled off a 53 yard run (with 63 yards total on 5 carries) but also laid down a 30 plus yard kick return and also a few punts, as well.

Of course, this left a whirlwind of tweets about a random game on an August Saturday night…many simply asking me for my thoughts of the upstart’s performance and movement mechanics…others claiming to me that the former rugby league player was going to be taking over the NFL this year (Okay; only one overzealous person went as far to make that particular claim).

But because I was engrossed in my own game at the moment, I waited a bit, and now went back to watch Hayne’s highlights…and wanted to offer a few thoughts today.

Slow down a bit and pump the brakes

As I’ve already responded to several people on Twitter, “pump the brakes.”

Now, I am not one to usually pull the “it’s just preseason” card…but, if there ever was the case, it’s just preseason. Not exactly though…because I want to be fair and give the guy the credit that he is due; he IS in fact a top notch athlete. However, there have been plenty of guys with high-level athletic attributes who have not panned out in the NFL (for various reasons).

So, that said, let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit here:

  1. For starters, it was the first game of the preseason for both teams. A game notoriously known for one where both offenses and defenses are playing their most vanilla of tactical schemes (i.e. the mental game is going to be getting tougher each week from here).
  2. The play that many people are pointing to (the 53 yard scamper) was one that was about as well-blocked up front as you would see if you watched an entire week’s worth of games. Watch the play below, specifically from the end zone view, and you will see that the hole was ummm…open. The situation also left him in one where he is very comfortable with…an external environment that resembled one that he has faced countless times on a rugby pitch.

  1. He made a spectacular crossover move on a safety in the open field. However…that is a 1-on-1 match-up in the open field that RBs in this League simply must win very, very frequently if they hope to have a job for any period of time.
  2. After making said move, it should be off to the races and off to the paydirt (i.e. scoring a TD). Let’s be real here…many starting RBs in the League end up winning that race. Granted, Hayne did get tripped up by that earlier mentioned safety and had to work to dynamically regain his balance for a good chunk of yardage…but of course, then got caught by several players.
  3. Because of the differences in the biodynamic structure of football movement vs. that which occurs on a rugby field; he has developed a very vertical movement signature (not only in his acceleration & midrange mechanics but also in his cutting actions). He cuts sharply…but also does so often from a relatively higher center of gravity. He must develop greater feel (i.e. sensory awareness) of where his body is in space when he’s in very tight quarters within traffic (specific to the tactical demands of American football) and then learn not only how to perceive what’s unfolding around him, but also position himself biomechanically to overcome those movement problems in the most efficient plus effective ways.
  4. Last, but certainly not least, he was playing with 2’s and 3’s on the field. Thus, it’s not like he was running through the Seahawks 1’s defense here in midseason form.

C’mon Shawn…gonna give any credit?

That all said, I am very intrigued by the prospect of him making this team, watching him grow & develop greater mastery in football movement, and making a true-go of this endeavor.

When San Francisco first signed him, it looked like it could be as a “camp body” and someone who would be on the bubble of even making the roster. But after Saturday’s performance, Hayne’s chances should’ve improved drastically…as he showed he can make some plays when his number is called and the opportunities present themselves.

It still may be an uphill battle…coupled with the fact that Hayne is going to need some time to develop the movement qualities on the offensive side of the ball (note: the NFL doesn’t do well with keeping guys around who need time and/or development) the 49ers also have a number of guys at the position on their roster that they are most surely going to keep around as key contributors (Hyde, Bush, Davis). Thus, it could be a case where the team may just not have enough carries to go around.

Thus, Hayne’s best shot at making this team will come with what he can bring to the table on Special Teams. I am not talking just as a Returner (which could be the best potential fit for him all across the field)…but in all facets of Special Teams play. It was very obvious on Saturday night that he is more than comfortable being physical with guys (of course, how can he not be with the game he grew up playing?) and not only staying composed while absorbing contact but also to be the one who is delivering the blows.

Additionally, it’s obvious that some of his skills from the rugby pitch, particularly his movement with the ball, has transferred to a football field. Usually there will be a huge jump in comfort and movement control from preseason game 1 to 2…but that’s for a normal rookie RB who grew in systems where the tactical demands where the same but when getting to the NFL the green grass and space is no longer there to operate (due to bigger & much faster guys). Thus, I am anxious to see what happens to the processes involved when Hayne’s perceives the environment, more accurately processes what’s happening, and continues to acquire more refined movement skills that can apply on Sundays.

Hayne pic 2


Based on my analysis, it may initially appear that I am hating on the dude. It also may seem as though I don’t want to see him make the team. However, I am not doing either of these things. In fact, I would like to see him not only make it but also flourish. Not only do I love seeing guys achieve their dreams & aspirations, but I also believe that here in America, we could learn a great deal about physical preparation for football from our international rugby counterparts. And thing is, Jarryd Hayne would more fully open the door for that potential to occur.


6 thoughts on “Rugby league player turned American football star?

  1. Hey Shawn, I will forgive all as I have seen you wear a Nz All Blacks jumper. Jarryd comes from Rugby ‘league’ a different sport to rugby. Wouldn’t be right in grouping them together as each code has different skill sets- to my knowledge only one rugby player was ever offered a nfl trial and that was Jonah Lomu(worth a youtube). If you want to see a good rugby league promo youtube some ‘state of origin’ matches. Great analysis as always

  2. As a rugby league semi-fan and NFL no-nothing I really appreciated your insights. Great article, I hope Hayne reads this or at least is getting the same advice on the different spatial awareness and biomechanics needed to make NFL. One extra thing for you to consider is the lack of body armour used in league – surely a major change in vision and nature of impact for a player.

    • Warren – Thank you very much for the words about the article. I sincerely appreciate it. You make a very good point; his opponents (as well as his teammates) all have a different intention in this game, which leads to a change in perception for the player with the ball (Hayne when he has it), which will lead to a different, optimal action plan & movement patterns. It will be interesting to see his development not only over these preseason games but also as his football career evolves.

  3. Hey Shawn, League and Union are two very different games. As different as Basketball and Netball. Suggest you also take a look at the last Bledisloe Cup to see Union in action and have a Captain Cook at the State of Origin series to see what League is all about.

    • Thanks for the comment, John. I appreciate it. Some others have made the distinction as well…I apologize for any confusion. Yet, my breakdown wasn’t in regards to Rugby League vs. Rugby Union and the movement capabilities of each of those…instead, its focus was on Hayne’s current American football prowess and his potential abilities to flourish there. So, either way, I think it will be interesting to see how his movement patterns, mechanics, and strategies continue in our League. Thanks again for the comment!

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