PLENTY of Australians have taken potshots at Jarryd Hayne over his short stint in the NFL but someone who really knows what he’s talking about has provided his take on where the rugby league star fell down.
Trey Wingo is to American sport what Ray Warren is to rugby league or Richie Benaud was to cricket. The broadcaster and presenter has been the face of ESPN for over two decades and is a central figure in the network’s football coverage.
He’s hosted countless radio and TV shows and anchored SportsCenter during Super Bowls and NFL Drafts, so he knows a thing or two about the American sports landscape and the NFL in particular.
Appearing on an episode of The Back Page on Fox Sports on Tuesday night, Wingo gave his take on why Hayne only spent one year with the San Francisco 49ers.
After quitting the Parramatta Eels in 2014 to chase his American dream, Hayne scored a spot on the Niners’ 53-man roster and played six games as a kick returner and running back before being dropped to the practice squad.
He was recalled to the senior side in December and played two more games but didn’t reach the heights of his impressive pre-season outings and after one season announced he was leaving to try his hand at Rugby Sevens.
Wingo said Hayne didn’t cut it in the NFL because he didn’t adjust his running style to suit the code.
“It’s a different running style in the NFL. You have to have a lower centre of gravity because you don’t want to get hit, you want to make people miss,” Wingo said.
“If you look at the way he runs and the way he plays, he’s running upright. See how tall and straight he is? That’s an easier target to hit and those guys in the NFL are going to find you.
“That was the biggest problem for him and why it didn’t work for him.
“You really want to have a lower centre of gravity and you don’t want to run so upright which makes you a bigger target.”
That Hayne played a single NFL game — let alone eight — was a miracle in itself and should be applauded, but the demands of the code hop combined with his ambition to represent Fiji in Rugby Sevens at the Olympics meant his Stateside sojourn was a short one.
He said in 2016 he walked away from the NFL because he was unable to get enough game time to sufficiently improve, not because he was tapped on the shoulder by incoming coach Chip Kelly, as was speculated at the time.
“I need to be getting game time and you just can’t get that over there (in the NFL) because of the way it works,” Hayne told The Locker Room podcast.
“The offence is only on for a certain amount of time and then there’s five other running backs.
“If there was a second division team where I could get those mental reps of being on the field, 100 per cent I’d go back to the NFL.
“I’m at the end of my career where I really (have) just got to get on the field. I just want to be on the field. I’ve played eight games in two years.
“If I went back there to the NFL it’d be one of those things where I’d be a second or third string guy helping out but not really getting a lot of game time.”
Hayne failed to make the Fiji Sevens squad for the Rio Games in 2016 and came back to where he started his sporting career in the NRL. After joining the Gold Coast Titans late that year, he spent another season on the glitter strip before heading back to Sydney to link up with Parramatta again in 2018.
But his second coming in the blue and gold hasn’t been a happy one. Touted as premiership contenders at the start of the year, the Eels are languishing on the bottom of the table after winning just four games all season.
Hayne has been hampered by injuries and is only now producing the sort of performances that saw him win the Dally M Medal twice. A barnstorming effort against Newcastle two weekends ago was easily his best showing of the season and with the added incentive of a new contract to play for, he’ll be desperate to repeat the dose every chance he gets.
Hayne’s deal runs out at season’s end and he needs to show he’s worth a new contract. Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has said the club will wait until the end of the year to start negotiations about his future amid reports no other club has shown interest in signing the 30-year-old for 2019.