Jarryd Hayne has had a fantastic year – a Dally M medal and a starring role in a drought-breaking Origin win for New South Wales.
In terms of rugby league, you can’t really have a much better season.
Yet the single most inspirational thing Hayne has done this year occurred in a press conference at the Parramatta Leagues Club on Wednesday morning, when he announced he was leaving the Eels and heading to America to try out for the NFL.
Yes, you read that correctly. Try out for the NFL – his aim is to make the “train-on” squad with a second-tier team, and hopefully, one day, play in the NFL.
No contract in place, no massive financial carrot dangled in front of him, just a man looking to test himself – in one of the toughest and most competitive leagues in the world.
Hayne is a modern-day great, a genuine superstar, and at his Wednesday press conference he said he had rejected a deal from Parramatta that would have made him the “highest-paid player in the history of rugby league”.
If our southern states readers are looking for an equivalent, it’s like Gary Ablett coming out in his final year at Geelong and telling us he had knocked back a monster contract to choof off to Dallas to try out for the Cowboys.
Or Wayne Rooney requesting a meeting with Louis van Gaal to let him know he was giving up his 300,000 quid a week to move to the USA and try his hand at ice hockey, just because he’d always fancied it.
The most astounding thing about Hayne’s move is that it was a decision made for love, not money. The love of a game, and the love a challenge. In this era, that qualifies Hayne as exceptional.
A boy who played ‘Madden’ is now embarking on an odyssey.
He sat there, fielding questions from the assembled scribes, wiping away tears when discussing his humble beginnings in a western Sydney housing commission.
When he started out, all he wanted to do was buy his mum a house. Anything else was gravy.
Now, with that mission accomplished, he spoke about following his heart and challenging himself and chasing his dreams.
Hayne said he should have “made the decision 12 months ago but I didn’t have the courage”.
Sometime in the last year, he found it – and everyone should be inspired by what this kid from Minto is about to undertake.
His chances? A bit better than those of a snowball lobbed into hell, but not that much better.
Hayne is an athlete who has experienced the discipline and culture of an elite sporting environment, so that’s a leg-up.
But he’ll also be competing against gridiron natives, who’ve been ‘tossing a football’ since they were knee high to a grasshopper.
How this ends, however, isn’t important – as Hayne repeatedly stressed on Wednesday, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
America was the land of opportunity, and Jarryd Hayne’s decided to see if it’s still the promised land.
To walk away from his league career, in his prime, is a crazy-brave decision.
In a world ruled by money and fear, in that order, it was edifying.