Less than three months after quitting the San Francisco 49ers so he could make an ultimately failed attempt to compete in rugby sevens at the Rio Olympics, Jarryd Hayne is back in the National Rugby League.
The Gold Coast Titans announced Wednesday that Hayne had signed a two-year contract, and he’ll begin playing this weekend as part of the deal.
Financial details weren’t disclosed, but Australian media said the contract was worth 1.2 million Australian dollars ($914,000) a season.
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The Parramatta Eels, the team Hayne began his NRL career with before leaving in 2014 for the 49ers, made Hayne a contract offer. But the Titans were reported to have upped the ante to get one of Australian sport’s most recognizable and talented players on their roster, a presence only enhanced by his high-profile NFL stint.
“It wasn’t the easiest decision for me to make … very emotional,” Hayne said at a news conference. “I never thought I’d ever join another club, but I guess everything happens for a reason. A part of me is sad as I’m not going to be part of the club I grew up with, but that’s the excitement as well of being with the Titans.”
So instead of playing for a team based in working-class western Sydney, Hayne will suit up for an up-and-coming side – the youngest in the 16-team competition – on the glitzy Gold Coast tourist strip south of Brisbane.
Hayne will make his debut Sunday for the Titans, who are at home against the New Zealand Warriors. With five regular-season rounds left in the season, and the top eight teams advancing to the playoffs, the Titans are currently seventh.
The 25,000-seat stadium at Robina on the Gold Coast could be filled to capacity to watch the “Hayne Plane” make his competitive return in Australia.
“We are expecting a massive turnout,” Titans chief executive Graham Annesley said Wednesday.
In mid-May, Hayne announced his retirement from the 49ers in order to push for selection in the Fiji rugby sevens team for the Rio de Janeiro Games.
“I simply could not pass that chance up,” Hayne said at the time. “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 28-year-old Hayne surprisingly made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp as a rookie running back last year with San Francisco. Playing eight games with one start, he had 17 carries for 52 yards and six catches for 27 yards while also returning eight punts for 76 yards.
But his rugby sevens career turned out to be even shorter. Hayne struggled to adapt to the pace and fitness demands of sevens – a modified version of the traditional rugby in which teams play several matches in tournaments which last two to three days.
And it didn’t help that Fiji has one of the best sevens sides in the world and could win the country’s first Olympic gold medal – or medal of any color – when the Rio men’s tournament is held from Aug. 10-12.
Hayne began his rugby league career in 2006, and he scored 103 tries in 176 matches for the Eels. But Parramatta has been involved in a salary cap scandal this season which has seen the club stripped of competition points and had team executives banned.
There was also interest from rugby union teams, with reports Hayne could have played in France or Japan.