Jarryd Hayne, Sam Burgess and SBW. I don’t need to spell it out for you! Do I?
Arguably three of the biggest and brightest stars in the NRL today have left the game for greener pastures. We have the current Dally M player of the year, the current Clive Churchill medallist and one of the games most marketable players in SBW all jettisoning Rugby League.
All three are not looking for the golden handshake and making their way to the English Super League as a retirement plan, all three have exited in the prime of their careers for “challenges”outside the game of Rugby League. None are easily replaceable.
Where did it all go wrong? Could we have stopped any of them from leaving? All three seemed to have achieved what they set out to do. Hayne elevated NSW to claim its first Origin series in nine years. SBW won a premiership in his first year back in the game with the Roosters and Burgess took the Rabbitohs from obscurity to premiers in the space of four seasons.
Sure, the sun will rise tomorrow and the next day but it may not be as luminous for quite some time. I’m a Raiders fan so there is a bright side for me. Three teams have been substantially weakened by these losses and looks as though the Eels will be the new wooden spoon favourites, taking the heat off the Raiders until at least round one, 2015.
I digress. Jarryd Hayne rocked the Rugby League fraternity to its foundations and the wider sporting world when he announced he was walking out on the Eels to try his hand at American football and will be in L.A. within a week, training and looking for a trial with one of the NFL’s 32 teams, with the Seattle Seahawks rumoured to showing the most interest.
Whether or not he succeed remains to be seen but there is no doubting Hayne’s resolve in this instance and the boldness of the move given his age and relative lack of exposure to a very technical game.
Back to the why. Is it the game itself and the way it is currently played that is forcing our marquee players out? Has it become too sanitised? I remember SBW when he was with the Bulldogs, delivering a punishing shoulder charge on Joel Clinton in the 2004 preliminary final. It was violent, it was brutal and it was fantastic to watch! Clinton’s mop of hair flew back as though he had just been in a new Hyundai Getz as a crash test dummy at 150 km/h. Sadly, the shoulder charge is no more…
Burgess looked like Sloth from Goonies after this years grand final and he deservingly won the accolade as the best on ground for his performance, considering he fractured his cheekbone in the opening tackle courtesy of compatriot James Graham and his head full lead and or concrete and possibly other unknown substances.
Back to the why? Is the game too insular and a victim of its working class past to think boldly like other professional sports? Sure, we don’t have a population to support salaries paid to players like they do in the NBA, NFL, EPL etc. But we can and must do more to dangle that carrot to players contemplating the move out of our game to stay put.
I certainly don’t have all the answers but I’m not paid $1 million per year like NRL CEO Dave Smith so I can sit back and be an armchair critic, as is my right.
Parity is the name of the game in Rugby League, as it is in the AFL and NRL. I certainly don’t want to see an EPL style situation of four clubs dominating year on year and the poorer clubs become merely a feeder or farm for the bigger, richer clubs. The genesis of that scenario is underway with the Roosters, Bulldogs, Broncos and now Souths dominating the distribution of elite talent.
It’s hard to judge who is the biggest loss but I will say I believe it is Hayne although I believe we will see him back in the NRL, possibly before the conclusion of the 2015 season. I believe he has all the attributes required to be successful in the NFL, he’s just left his run a fraction late.
The upside is Hayne could add significant value to Rugby League is he is successful and our marquee events such as State of Origin then attract significant international interest.
To be honest, I was neither shocked nor disappointed at the news of Hayne’s immediate departure but I am a fanatical NFL fan as I see upside if he is successful and if spun right. But that’s a BIG if!