(Reuters) - The San Francisco 49ers confirmed on Tuesday they had signed Australian rugby league star Jarryd Hayne to a three-year-deal.
Hayne had earlier told a news conference in Sydney that he had agreed to a futures contract with the 49ers but San Francisco later announced the undrafted free agent had been given a three-year deal.
The 27-year-old Hayne has never played American football before but attracted offers from three NFL teams, the 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, after he announced last year he wanted to try his hand at NFL.
Hayne said he chose the 49ers after having a long talk with new coach Jim Tomsula, who had experience working with rugby players in Europe so was aware of the challenges Hayne faces in making the transition.
As a show of faith, the 49ers also guaranteed Hayne $100,000, a pittance to the millions he was earning in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), but still substantial for someone who has never played the game and still faces a battle just to earn a spot on the team roster.
Hayne, who stands 1.88 (6ft 2in) tall and weighs 100kg (220 lbs) stunned sports-mad Australia when he walked away from the NRL at the peak of his career to try NFL.
A two-time winner of the Dally M award as the NRL’s player of the year, including last season, Hayne has been a member of the Australian national team since 2007 and won a World Cup in 2013. In 2009, he was named rugby league’s world player of the year.
Very few professionals have been able to make the switch from one sport to another and the odds are heavily stacked against Hayne, although there have been some previous success stories.
A number of Australians have carved out careers in the NFL since track and field athlete Colin Ridgeway broke ground with a handful of games for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s.
Most have been punters from AFL (Australian Rules football). Ben Graham joined the New York Jets in 2005 when he was 31 and played for the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl in early 2009.
In 2007, Sav Rocca became the oldest rookie in NFL history when he joined the Philadelphia Eagles at age 33, and went on to play seven full seasons, including three with the Washington Redskins.
No Australian in top-flight rugby league has ever made the switch, however, and Hayne said he was still young enough to return to the NRL if things didn’t work out.
Hayne’s best chances of making it appear to be either as a running back or a punt returner.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Julian Linden