Australian Jordan Mailata’s stunning and rapid transition from bright NRL prospect to NFL hopeful was capped on Sunday (AEST) when he was selected in the American league’s draft.
The 21-year-old, who was picked by Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles, showed plenty of promise for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL last year, with his strength and power making him “unstoppable” during a series of appearances for the club’s under-20 team.
But the 203cm Mailata tipped the scales at 166kg when he arrived at South Sydney and, although he lost around 25 kilos at the club, the wrecking ball still struggled with the repeat efforts and endurance required in rugby league.
Thinking outside the box, Mailata’s agent Chris Orr sent a package of his player’s jaw-dropping highlights to NFL scouts, hoping his ability to star in bursts would appeal to the stop-start nature of American football.
The @Eagles just drafted Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata.
— NFL (@NFL) April 28, 2018
The video did the trick, with Mailata invited to a screening session. He arrived in the United States in November, admitting he knew “as little as peanuts” about the game but hoping to show what he could do.
Fast-forward just five months and Mailata is a contracted rookie with the best side in the world and on a wage of approximately $A600,000, despite having never played a competitive match.
“I just broke down. I can’t believe it,” Mailata told News Corp.
“It is unbelievable that I am drafted to the Eagles who are the Super Bowl champions.
“It’s crazy to think about where I was last year and where I am now … I am speechless.
“I can’t put it into words that I could be playing an NFL game soon.”
Mailata, who now weighs 156kg, was chosen in the seventh round of the draft and admitted he was getting very nervous as it went on.
His earning potential could rise significantly depending on his success, but Mailata knows the job is far from done.
“I am looking forward to the challenge and feel confident I can succeed but I now have a lot of hard work in front of me before I can start thinking of wearing an NFL jersey,” he told the NFL’s official website.
Former Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire wrote before the draft that if Mailata was to be selected, it would be “one of the great transformations by an athlete from this country”.
“I’ll never forget the moment I first laid eyes on him … he was enormous,” Maguire wrote in a PlayersVoice column.
“I reckon he’s still the largest bloke I’ve come across in rugby league.”
Another Aussie gets selected
Michael Dickson became the first Australian to be taken in the NFL draft since 2016 when the punter went to the Seattle Seahawks.
Dickson was highly regarded in college football circles after starring for the University of Texas for the past three seasons.
He was a member of the academy at AFL club Sydney before moving to the United States.
Dickson was drafted at pick 149, while Mailata went at 233 on the final day of action.
One-handed player taken by Seattle
History was made at the draft on Sunday, as the Seahawks picked linebacker Shaquem Griffin in the fifth round.
Griffin had his left hand amputated at the age of four but has proven to be an excellent player in the college system.
“It was really like a dream,” he said.
“It’s unexplainable, the emotions, everything that was going through my mind. It was crazy.”
Making the Griffin story even more heartwarming is the fact that his brother, Shaquill Griffin, also plays at Seattle.
The pair are very close and have played football together throughout their youth.
Shaquill Griffin even declined scholarship offers if a school was not willing to offer one to his brother.