Next stop, the NFL

Mon, 28 Nov, 12:00 AM
There’s been an influx of NRL players trying their hand at cracking the big leagues over in the U.S.A. Last year’s offseason saw the high profile defection of wonder boy Jarryd Hayne try his luck with the San Francisco 49’ers. Is this an omen for what’s to come of the NRL’s top tier talents?

Many NFL experts didn’t have much faith that at Hayne’s advanced age he would have much success given the many nuances of the NFL and the rigorous upbringing that leads to players being highly conditioned for the sport.

This year has seen two more high profile stars have a crack at the NFL. It has been widely reported that Jason Taumalolo and Valentine Holmes are set to trial in Los Angeles over the coming week. Many teams will be sending scouts to monitor the pair’s performances in the hope that they may uncover a hidden gem in the talents from down under.

The benefit that Taumalolo and Holmes have compared to Hayne is age. The boys are 23 and 21 respectively, giving them that added bit of time to turn raw talent into proven NFL skill. Hayne was in the decline of his career and Running backs (the position Hayne trialled for) are notoriously known for being released once their better days are behind them.

Taumalolo is a talented player. He has smooth hands, fantastic footwork and has power for days. Just looking at the bloke you can see he’d be a monster regardless of what sport he plays. His talents were recognised this year as he won the Dally M Medal, RLPA player of the year, Rugby League week player of the year and Dally M Lock of the year in 2016.

Taumalolo could go one of two ways in my opinion. He can build off his sturdy frame and good hands and become a Tight End. At 6ft 3, 113kg he would be able to use his body to absorb hits in and around the middle of the field as well as Block on a variety of plays. He’d be am ideal candidate to be a spot running back in short yardage situations such as your 3rd & 2’s or your 4th & 1’s. Looking at Taumalolo, he’s probably bigger than most of the bouncers you see on a night out, so seeing him blocking someone entry to a Quarterback or running back wouldn’t be too hard to believe. Alternatively, given his overall size and speed, he could be thrown in at Defensive End. His nimble footwork and strong upper body would be able to carve countless lanes to the quarterback and really thrive in that JJ Watt role.

Hit the link for a refresher course on NFL positions:

Holmes is a completely different player to Taumalolo as is evident in his 6ft 1, 87 kg frame compared to the big bopper. Holmes’ game is predicated around quickness, elusiveness, athletic ability and anticipation. He has pulled off some miracle plays to get the ball down in the in goal and it seems as though every second week he’s putting on a solo highlight reel. Holmes’ skills would be best utilised as a wide receiver. Anyone who knows NFL would agree that you could see shades of Odell Beckham Jr in the premiership winner.

It’s surprising that Cronulla has allowed one of their finer young talents to depart so shortly after premiership-winning fullback Ben Barba left the club. Holmes was the no-brainer option to slot in and potentially excel in that key role. Sharks management and fans will be quietly crossing their fingers that Holmes is unsuccessful in his attempt to break into the NFL that’s for sure.

Other big names have had their chances to play in the NFL such as Thomas Burgess trialling for the New York Giants last year and the supposed $550,000 contract that was offered to Willie Mason. Mason was unable to secure a release from the Bulldogs back in 2006 which prevented him from being a pioneer in this code switch.

The NRL has been a poaching ground for many rival codes to sign players. Given the all-round athletic traits of many professional NRL players, it’s not difficult to see why NRL players are so sought after. There are a multitude of skills that are easily transferrable to a number of codes. The AFL has taken its share in Karmichael Hunt and Folau as well as Rugby Union taking Lote Tuqiri, Matt Rogers with their most recent signing in excitement machine Marika Koroibete.

Unfortunately the NRL just doesn’t have the financial means to keep players as well paid as rival footballing codes both domestic and abroad. If Taumalolo and Holmes succeed, this could open up a Pandora’s box of another code having regular shopping sprees at the NRL’s expense. With the NRL’s average salary being below $300,000 and the average NFL salary being $2,000,000, it’s no wonder why the idea of plying trade in the United States seems so appealing to many young homegrown stars.

Nik Hatzi

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