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NFC West Update: Rugby league star Jarryd Hayne signs with San Francisco 49ers

The Australian standout is pursuing a career in American football.


(Matt King/Getty Images)

Jarryd Hayne has found his NFL home in the NFC West.

The National Rugby League star made the announcement on Tuesday in Sydney, Australia and the 49ers later confirmed the signing of Hayne to a three-year deal.

"In 2015, I'm going to be a San Francisco 49er," Hayne told reporters as he pulled a red New Era cap bearing the SF logo out from underneath the table he was seated and onto his head.

The 27-year-old Hayne, who was honored with the NRL's equivalent to the NFL's Most Valuable Player award for the second time this past season, projects as a running back and return man in the NFL. He thanked the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions for their interest before revealing he had agreed to terms on a deal with the Niners, a decision that Hayne said came easy after he had an hour-long visit with first-year San Francisco head coach Jim Tomsula at the team's Santa Clara headquarters.

"He's spent so much time with rugby players," Hayne said of Tomsula's history as a coach in NFL Europe. "He was probably the one coach that knew the transition better than anyone and knew what it took, what it's going to take for me to make that transition."

Hayne measured 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds at a recent pro day workout at the University of San Diego. He reportedly ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, which would have been tied for sixth-best among running backs at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

He'll have his work cut out for him as he tries to secure a spot on the team's 53-man roster. At running back, the 49ers feature Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter, and Frank Gore, who's a pending free agent but one that San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke has said the team wants back next year. Hayne said he spoke with Baalke this past Friday and the pair "did the handshake over the phone."

"For me this is a small step in the right direction," said Hayne. "The hard stuff starts now."

Hayne announced his pursuit of a career in American football last October when he chose to leave Australia's Parramatta Eels. At the time of Hayne's statement, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked about a rugby player potentially moving to the NFL.

"It'd be a tremendous challenge and only a certain few could do it," said Carroll. "There'd need to be a lot of patience from the club that goes for it if you do it. It isn't the kind of thing - I don't think, unless we're writing a great script here - that a guy could come in in the middle of the season and all the sudden present a starring role for that team. I don't think that's going to happen. I think it's going to take more time than that.

"But we've seen guys over the years that have made transitions from other sports, basketball players doing it," Carroll added. "So it can happen, certainly."

That type of patience Carroll talked about has already been put into practice by the 49ers and it's an approach they'll hope to emulate with Hayne.

In 2015, Seattle's division rival will move into the third year of developing former British rugby player and Olympian Lawrence Okoye as a defensive lineman. Okoye, who worked with the 49ers' former D-line coach Tomsula the past two years, spent 2013 on injured reserve and 2014 on the practice squad. Hayne said Okoye's case was part of what made him comfortable with where he's landed.

"I've got no backup plan," said Hayne. "I'm putting all my chips on the table and whatever happens, happens."

Hayne enters the League much like an undrafted free agent, noting he'll start out on a rookie deal. He sees processing the team's playbook as the "biggest task" ahead and will be eligible to join the 49ers' offseason program in the Bay Area next month.

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