Jarryd Hayne has left it too late

Date: May 20, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

HayneJarryd Hayne is an exceptional athlete and a driven individual, facts that are beyond dispute.

He shocked sports fans when he turned his back on rugby league to pursue his dream of playing American Football. Many thought it was a dream that would never be transformed into reality.

Hayne was able to stun his critics when he was first chosen by the San Francisco 49ers and then silenced them completely when he made his debut.

His dalliance with the NFL lasted one season and eight games with Hayne turning his back on gridiron on the weekend by announcing his aim of being part of Fiji’s rugby sevens team when the sport makes its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro.

San Francisco coach Chip Kelly says he was taken aback by Hayne’s career choice, saying “I was surprised. I had no idea”.

Many thought if Hayne was to abandon his American adventure it would be for a return to the NRL where he had starred with the Parramatta Eels from 2006 until his move over the Pacific.

That is likely to come to pass after the Olympics but for now he is hell bent on walking behind the Fijian flag at the opening ceremony in Brazil.

The big question is whether Hayne has left his bid for an Olympic jersey too late? The cauldron is due to be lit in Rio in 78 days however Hayne has considerably less time than that to convince Fiji’s selectors that he is worth the gamble.

Coach Ben Ryan will name his 12-man Olympic squad in late-June following an intensive training camp in Fiji earlier in the month.

Hayne lobbed in London on Monday hoping to be included in Fiji’s team for the tenth and final round of the World Rugby Sevens Series this weekend.

The final leg of the sports globetrotting extravaganza would provide Hayne with a valuable litmus test but after going into camp with the Fijians he missed the final 12-man squad for the weekend. It would have been his first experience of the shortened form of rugby.

Hayne arrived in England with the aim joining a Fijian team that is within touching distance of a second consecutive World Rugby Sevens title.

Currently, Fiji sits atop the standings with 166 points – 14 clear of South Africa and 21 ahead of New Zealand. Quite clearly the Fiji sevens team is the best in the sport.

That is what makes Hayne’s bid to make the grade even more remarkable.

Unlike other Australian athletes like Jana Pittman, who transitioned from the 400m hurdles to the bobsleigh, and Fiona Robinson who moved from basketball at Atlanta to handball at Sydney, Hayne is looking to join a national team that dominates its sport.

And he is looking to make the transition with respect to the required fitness, skill level and tactical awareness and understanding with less than three months before the biggest event in the history of sevens rugby.

Kelly noted earlier in the week when talking to the media at the 49ers’ Santa Clara training facility about Hayne’s move to rugby sevens that, “He’s a sharp learner”.

He will need all his smarts to make this latest dream a reality. It can be argued that his history in rugby league will greatly aid his morphing into a sevens player. Whilst that is no doubt true it certainly will not guarantee success.

Even hugely accomplished fifteen-a-side rugby players have struggled with the move to the sevens format.

Quade Cooper is the perfect example.

The New Zealand-born fly-half who won 58 caps for the Wallabies recently failed in his bid for inclusion in the Australian sevens side for Rio.

A fortnight ago, Australian coach Andy Friend cut Cooper from his pre-Olympic squad. At the time Friend said, “There’s no doubt Quade is a quality player, but put simply, we just haven’t had the opportunity to work with him as much as we would have liked over the past five months”.

Hayne is looking to make the grade and convince people in virtually half that time.

Friend also stated that, “Many players have found throughout this season’s World Series, it is no easy task to transition from fifteens to the sevens form of the game”.

Hayne is endeavouring to make that transition coming off a brief career in American Football prefaced by nine seasons in the NRL.

Whilst Hayne has to come to terms with the tactical side of sevens he also has to ensure that he has the necessary physical requirements as well.

Sevens is an infinitely more aerobic based sport than American Football and as such he will need to change his basic physiology in the next few months.

Karmichael Hunt spoke about the challenges he had changing body type when he made the move from the NRL to the AFL a few years back.

Coming off his NFL training it is doubtful that Hayne would be close to the aerobic capacity he would need for the gut-running sevens game.

Had Hayne had a longer lead-up to his Olympic dream it would not be hard to see him reaching Rio.

But presently, with less than 80 days to go and with no experience in the sport whatsoever and with questions over his requisite fitness, it is hard to see Hayne being on the plane.

And let’s face it, given Fiji is the favourite to take out the gold medal at Rio does it need to risk the inclusion of Hayne at the 11th hour?

Whether he will look for a more conventional entrée into sevens prior to the 2020 Tokyo Games remains unknown.

However, for now, it would appear that a man who has set lofty goals in sport and managed to attain them is going to fall short on this occasion.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – 19 May 2016, soliciting 111 comments