For­mer rugby league star con­tin­ues to make NFL strides

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JANIE MCCAULEY

Jar­ryd Hayne cer­tainly had no in­ten­tion of in­duc­ing a col­lec­tive laugh when it came to his thoughts on the fair catch in football.

“You stick your hand in the air and they can’t touch you,” he said, straight-faced.

The for­mer Aus­tralian rugby league star is coolly mak­ing his way through an im­pres­sive first train­ing camp with the San Fran­cisco 49ers, show­ing that just maybe he can prove ev­ery­body wrong and earn a spot on the 53-man ros­ter.

With a lit­tle un­in­ten­tional hu­mor mixed in to boot.

The 27-year-old rookie is say­ing all the right things, too: He’s far from pol­ished, is still learn­ing ev­ery day and wants to im­prove each week. No bold pre­dic­tions about his stand­ing, ei­ther.

Hayne’s next chance in a game sit­u­a­tion Sun­day against the Dal­las Cowboys will be another op­por­tu­nity to build off quite a pre­sea­son de­but last week­end at Hous­ton. He had a 53-yard run early in the sec­ond quar­ter of a 23-10 loss Satur­day night to the Tex­ans and five car­ries for 63 yards in all. In ad­di­tion, there was his 33-yard kick­off re­turn and a pair of punt re­turns to­tal­ing 24 yards.

“I felt com­fort­able out there, and I think it showed,” Hayne said Thurs­day. “I was al­ways con­fi­dent. For me, I didn’t need a play to have that con­fi­dence. It’s one of those things, with good or bad, I knew that I al­ways was go­ing to have to work on some­thing.”

Hayne has never doubted he could make the daunt­ing switch from rugby league to Amer­i­can football, even though he just pulled pads on for the first time ear­lier this month to take his first train­ing camp hit.

While Hayne knows he might have to fair catch at some point, he trusts his in­stincts and abil­ity to catch the ball and get away.

“I had op­por­tu­ni­ties to do it, but I backed my abil­ity,” he said. “I felt com­fort­able be­ing able to catch the ball and get out of the way.”

49ers spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor Thomas McGaughey Jr. loves that “fear­less” na­ture. He and coach Jim Tom­sula saw glimpses of that in watch­ing hours of rugby league footage to scout Hayne.

“We’ve got to find out what we have and if we take a knee we’ll never find out,” McGaughey said of Hayne’s re­turns. “You ob­vi­ously want to make smart de­ci­sions, but Jar­ryd is fear­less. That’s one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that it takes to be a great punt re­turner. It’s fun when you see a guy that can make that first guy miss and he’s not scared be­cause he’s very, very com­fort­able field­ing the ball and when you have that fear­less­ness it def­i­nitely gives you an edge on your op­po­nent.”

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