Jarryd Hayne’s rollercoaster first season in the NFL ended with a whimper, but the former NRL star should be immensely proud of what he has achieved.
On Sunday (Monday morning AEDT) his San Francisco 49ers posted a 19-16 overtime win over the St Louis Rams, bringing the curtain down on a troubled 2015-16 season.
Hayne was barely involved, spending the first half on the bench before he joined the special teams defensive unit, where he made a tackle late in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers finished the season with a 5-11 record, which saw them finish bottom of the NFC West division.
Head coach Jim Tomsula was sacked shortly after the match concluded.
For Hayne, he gave his all in his first season in the NFL, although at times he must have felt as if everything was crumbling.
It was always going to be tough, but that’s what made it such a courageous thing to do.
Nothing worth having comes easy.
Hayne knew that when he turned his back on a contract that would have made him the best-paid rugby league player in history.
He took the road less travelled, followed his dream and attempted to make it in one of the toughest competitions in the world.
And if this is sounding like a career obituary, he could still succeed – with the 49ers parting company with Tomsula, his odds of remaining on the roster next season have surely improved, if only by a little.
Along the way, there were stunning highs and and crushing lows – buy Hayne never lost sight of the goal.
His pre-season was outstanding and the hype generated by some of his performances verged on the ridiculous.
But once the real stuff started, Hayne quickly realised how tough life in the NFL could be.
He fumbled a punt return in his first regular-season game (see below), but went on to play the next six before being dropped in October.
But there was excitement too, like this outstanding 37-yard run against the Arizona Cardinals, probably his season highlight.
In early November Hayne found himself demoted to the 49ers practice squad (similar to the AFL’s rookie list) but was reinstated for the final two games of the season.
He remained on the sideline throughout most of the 49ers’ win over the Rams at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, with the team opting to play DuJuan Harris, Kendall Gaskins and Mike Davis at running back and Bruce Ellington as punt returner.
But despite limited involvement, after the match Hayne was ecstatic as the 49ers pulled off an overtime victory.
He had completed a dream and, against the odds, played in eight games.
“Overall, the year that I’ve had and to be here and part of the team has been incredible and more than what I could have imagined,” the 27-year-old said.
Hayne will fly back to Sydney on Tuesday for a well-earned break and the chance to plot his next move.
For now he should bask in the kind of respect that comes when you follow a dream and give it absolutely everything.
It wasn’t a fairytale, but there rarely is in professional sport.
For now, the story is good enough and you suspect there’s a chapter or two still to be written.
– with AAP