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Aussie Sensation Jarryd Hayne Deserves Spot on Final Roster


It’s only been two preseason performances, but Australian rugby league convert Jarryd Hayne has already proven he deserves a spot on San Francisco’s final roster.

If last week’s debut performance turned some heads, this week’s showing gave the home crowd at Levi’s Stadium whiplash, as Hayne ran, juked and shuffled his way into the conversation for the 49ers starting punt returner.

Hayne had 11 touches for a total of 138 yards on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. The bulk of those yards came on only 3 punt returns good for an average of 28 yards each. To put that into perspective, the longest punt return of San Fran’s entire 2014 campaign was just 23 yards.

His most memorable play came on a punt that sailed above his head and appeared headed towards the endzone, only for Hayne to make a freakish over-the-shoulder catch and return the football 27 yards, breaking two tackles in the process.

The play has already earnt Hayne the nickname “The Say Hayne Kid”, inspired by Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays, who made an uncannily similar catch during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The nickname may be lost on most Australian fans, who have taken to calling Jarryd the “Hayne Plane” after his trademark scoring celebration, but the name is a compliment nonetheless.

Maybe it’s because of his lack of experience returning punts, but Hayne’s unique style has yet to be figured out by opposing special teams. Unlike most veteran returners, Hayne doesn’t appear concerned with finding the seam, hitting the hole or scoring a touchdown on every single return.

In more of a rugby league style, his priority is simply the advance the ball as far as possible, and that often means taking on defenders one-on-one, instead of skirting around blockers and losing ground.

Sometimes, a good return comes in the form of simply barrelling over defenders; a skill most returners aren’t bulky enough to boast. Add in Hayne’s fancy footwork and scintillating speed, and you’ve got an enigmatic return man who isn’t just on the field to make up the numbers. Hayne’s skillset makes him an undeniable game breaker.

49ers head coach Jim Tomsula has already said Hayne is “in the conversation” for the final 53. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to inflate the rookie’s ego, or deflate the hopes of those also fighting to make the team, but it’s hard to believe Hayne hasn’t already done enough to prove himself this preseason.

Should the 49ers be foolish enough to cut Hayne before the regular season, a performance like this one will land him on somebody’s roster faster than you can say “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.”

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