SYDNEY • Australians cheered former rugby league star Jarryd Hayne yesterday after he was selected for the San Francisco 49ers' final 53-man roster as he chased the dream of a National Football League career in the United States.
Excitement has been building as the 27-year-old - who a year ago played his last match for Sydney-based Parramatta Eels in the National Rugby League (NRL) - impressed in pre-season performances with the 49ers.
"This is a Housing Commission (public housing) kid from a single mum from Minto in Sydney, one of the poorest suburbs," said Channel Seven sports reporter Josh Massoud on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "When he started in the NRL, it took him three years to buy his first new pair of shoes. Now he will never have to buy another pair. It's a wonderful story."
Praise for Hayne also came from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said his success showed "that even in unfamiliar fields, Australians can do very well indeed when we put our minds to it".
Hayne has long held a dream of playing in the NFL and played 176 games for the Eels, scoring 103 tries, before announcing an unprecedented code swap late last year.
"Champ, we couldn't be prouder! Keep dreaming big Haynesy #blueandgold #JH38," the Eels tweeted of the two-time NRL's most valuable player.
#Hayneplane - derived from the Australian's post-try rugby celebrations where he stretches his arms out like aircraft wings - started trending on Twitter as fans shared their pride in the player.
As well as being a star performer for Parramatta, Hayne also played 20 State of Origin matches for New South Wales and won 12 caps with the Kangaroos, the Australian national rugby league team.
But securing a spot in the 49ers was seen as a tough challenge for the son of a Fiji rugby league international, who only played his first American football game during a pre-season match for San Francisco against Houston last month.
"I am over the moon," Hayne told the 49ers' official website yesterday. "I didn't just wake up and want to be an NFL player one day. It was a long process with a lot of dark days and a lot of joyous days.
"I wanted to take a risk, and I wanted to put myself out there.
"Faith without action is dead. This whole journey, I've never felt so alive."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS