(Reuters) - Australian rugby league convert Jarryd Hayne is set to realize his dream of playing in the National Football League after making the San Francisco 49ers final roster on Saturday.
Hayne’s selection into the 53-man squad completed an emotional journey for an iron-willed 27-year-old who stunned his country by walking away from a glittering career in the top-flight National Rugby League a year ago.
With no prior experience of American football, Hayne cried last October when he announced he would pursue the most unlikely of dreams.
But four highlight-laden displays in the pre-season games confirmed the 49ers’ faith and left Hayne celebrating with overjoyed family members who flew to California.
“IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT! I thank GOD for WHAT HE has done and going to do on this incredible journey!!” Hayne tweeted after the news was announced.
A two-times winner of the NRL’s Dally M medal — the competition’s award for most valuable player — Hayne arrived in the United States an obscurity but immediately impressed scouts at a number of teams.
Hayne felt a natural affinity to the 49ers, however, where coach Jim Tomsula had experience working with rugby players during a stint in NFL Europe.
Hayne’s signing of a three-year contract as an undrafted agent in March caused a buzz in Australia but pundits lined up to hose down expectations that the 6ft-2in (1.88m) talent could make the final cut.
“It was a long process, and with long processes comes a lot of dark days,” Hayne told Australian broadcaster Fox Sports on Sunday.
“Whenever I start talking about what I’ve been through ... that’s when the emotions get stirred up.
“This whole journey was never about making a roster or being in a team. It was all about giving myself an opportunity, that’s what it was all about.
“It was about saying that I want to take a risk.”
Hayne finished the pre-season with 175 rushing yards, only eight shy of leader Zach Zenner of the Detroit Lions, with American media seizing on the hype.
The man nicknamed the ‘Hayne Plane’ also finished third among punt returners with 163 yards on 10 punts fielded.
If there were lingering doubts at San Francisco, Hayne may have put them to bed against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, when he made 58 yards on 10 carries, with an impressive 28-yard punt return.
He put an exclamation mark on that performance by steam-rolling Chargers defensive back Lowell Rose at the end of a 12-yard catch in the third quarter, a shoulder hit that sent social media into a frenzy.
The 49ers open their season against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 14 and will be certain of warm support from a new fan-base in Australia if Hayne should be named for his NFL debut.
Reporting by Tim Wharnsby; Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Andrew Both/Greg Stutchbury