Have boots, will travel. That seems to be the business plan that Jarryd Hayne has employed ever since his brief but much hyped NFL odyssey began in 2015.
Hayne is set to take off again with the Parramatta Eels holding out on renewing his contract.
“Parra will always be home to me but at the end of the day I’ve got to move on,” Hayne told Channel 10. “It’s obviously a business, the way it’s run. It’s just one of them things I’m not going to sit here and kick stones about it.”
After landing back at the Eels in 2018 after an unsettled stint with the Gold Coast Titans, Hayne is on the move again as coach Brad Arthur looks to balance the books and keep his salary cap in check.
“The Hayne Plane” has had an around-the-world ticket as the prototype portfolio sportsman has sought high-profile paydays to enhance his brand and buttress his bank balance.
Following his eight games for San Francisco 49ers, Hayne set his sights on a code switch and Olympic gold when he turned out for Fiji in Rugby Sevens in 2016.
Whilst he won a spot in the provisional 23-man squad for the Olympics in Rio that year, Fiji decided it could do without Hayne and went on to win gold without him.
So it was back to the NRL for a player with immense talent and an outsized ambition who sees sport first and foremost as an extension of his personal brand.
In an age where major sports organisations and clubs have built empires off the back of huge media deals and an endless appetite for product, it’s hard to begrudge players the opportunity to carve out their own territory.
Whilst their loyalty has been questioned, for the most part they’re simply reflecting the reality of the gig economy that is dominant today.
Hayne is not alone in redefining the job description of professional sport.
It’s strictly business.
Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt’s defection from rugby league to the AFL preceded Hayne’s wanderings. Sonny Bill Williams has mixed a World Cup triumph with the All Blacks, NRL title success and a boxing career.
And then there is Usain Bolt and his seemingly failing obsession with becoming a professional footballer.
Bolt’s trial with the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League was as awkward as it was ill fated. It was clear he never had the technique to cut it as a pro, but the publicity generated by his presence made it a mutually beneficial arrangement for club and player.
It surely more than coincidence that as Bolt was kicking a ball around in Gosford his face was plastered all over buses and billboards for a major telco.
BOLT HAS HIS BRACE! ⚡️
— Central Coast Mariners (@CCMariners) October 12, 2018
What better way to enhance your marketing plan than to have the star of the show on the back page and lead the news every night as well?
Not that everyone was pleased with what they saw as a cheap stunt. Perth Glory’s Irish striker Andy Keogh was scathing, saying Bolt “has a first touch like a trampoline”.
The clear message was that the Bolt experiment was a gimmick that demeaned the authenticity and quality of the league, something Keogh understood fans wouldn’t cop.
Hayne left Australia for the United States with a film crew in tow to document his quest NFL. He planned to be the star of his own reality show, the improbable hero chasing a distant dream.
That he actually made it to the NFL was quite an achievement. That he’s back playing rugby league and looking for a new contract doesn’t diminish that.
It’s doubtful anyone is interested in seeing that film though. Fans know when they’re being subject to a hard sell, when it’s more about brand management than game management.
If a player’s relationship to their sport is now purely transactional, fans will be equally as calculating in what they will and won’t buy.
Haynes journey has been a unique one.
Wherever the Hayne Plane lands next, let’s hope the only thing he has to sell is a dummy to a hapless opponent and that he continues to let his football do the talking.