The Jarryd Hayne football experiment has ended — and on his terms.
The Australian rugby star turned San Franciso 49ers running back announced on Sunday (Monday in Manila) that he will be returning to his original sport on a permanent basis to pursue Olympic gold.
“I am retiring from the NFL because the Fiji Rugby Sevens team reached out to me about the opportunity to join the team for the upcoming Olympics, and I simply could not pass that chance up,” Hayne said in a statement. “The Olympics has been something I have admired since I was a little boy, and it is an opportunity I feel very similar to me joining the NFL.
“The 49ers organization has been incredibly supportive throughout my journey and I cannot thank them and the support staff enough.”
Hayne, 28, signed with San Francisco as an undrafted free agent last March. He became an international sensation in preseason with Australian media flocking to the Bay Area to cover his transition to the new sport. Hayne appeared in eight games last season, rushing for 52 yards and catching six passes for 27 yards. He also returned eight punts for 76 yards.
But though the open-field running style that led to rugby stardom made him an exciting prospect, Hayne’s lack of familiarity with football became evident and led to a reduced role after he began the season on the punt return team while getting occasional touches on offense. He was eventually demoted to the practice squad but returned to the active roster later in the year.
Hayne played in the National Rugby League (NRL) with the Parramatta Eels from 2006 to 2014. In 2014, he won numerous Dally M Awards, which are given to the best and fairest player over the entire NRL regular season, as he was named the player of the year, best fullback, top tryscorer and representative player. Hayne previously won the Dally M Player of the Year and best fullback awards in 2009, the best winger award in 2007, and the best rookie award in 2006. He also represented Fiji in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup and Australia in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
He’ll switch to rugby sevens (seven men per side) with Fiji after playing rugby league (13 men per side) in Australia.
“Jarryd is a tremendous example of what can happen when you commit to a goal and do everything in your power to make it a reality. He earned the right to wear a 49ers uniform and compete alongside the best in the game,” said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke.
“We fully support Jarryd’s decision to pursue another dream — representing the Fiji Rugby Sevens team in this summer’s Olympic games. We look forward to watching him in Rio and wish him continued success.”
New Niners coach Chip Kelly had been excited to work with Hayne in 2016.
“The support and understanding from the 49ers organization was unbelievable when I let them know about my decision to pursue another dream,” said Hayne, who thanked Baalke, Kelly, former head coach Jim Tomsula and his teammates, especially his “running back brothers.”
“The past 12 months with the San Francisco 49ers have been absolutely incredible. I could not have predicted how far I have come as an NFL player. To not only be able to play in a game but also say that I started a game in the NFL is something that I will remember for a lifetime.”
Hayne isn’t the only player the NFL may be sending to Rio. Nate Ebner took leave from the New England Patriots in a bid to make the U.S. Olympic rugby team.