Jarryd Hayne speaks to media during a press conference to announce he is quitting the NRL to pursue NFL in America.NRL chief Dave Smith says there was nothing he could have done to keep Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams and Jarryd Hayne from leaving the code, after the trio claimed their decisions were not based on money.
Parramatta superstar Hayne told Smith on Tuesday night he was quitting the NRL to try his luck in the US in what is a big blow for the game after Burgess and Williams moved to play rugby in England and New Zealand respectively.
Smith admitted he was disappointed by the players’ departure but said the game was strong enough to cope.
‘‘I am of course disappointed, but I quickly realised that Jarryd is a young man who wants to do something else as part of his career path,’’ Smith said on Wednesday. ‘‘It’s not about money – it’s about chasing a dream – and there isn’t much we can do, but I wish him well.
‘‘It’s the same for Sonny and Sam. They are very talented guys who are great representatives for the game, but they are trying to develop their lives, and that’s a good thing.’’
Smith says he expects criticism of the NRL from some quarters but believes the level of talent still in the game is good enough to compensate.
‘‘Ideally, it wouldn’t happen, but it’s three out of 450-odd players, so it’s a very small proportion,’’ he said. ‘‘You only have to look at the talent coming through like Luke Brooks, Matt Moylan, Dylan Walker, Alex Johnston. The game is still very strong.’’
Parramatta have kept the door open for Hayne, who has vowed never to play against them, if the NSW fullback fails to make it in the tough world of the NFL.
The Eels signed former Canberra custodian Reece Robinson on Wednesday and he is expected to line up in the No.1 shirt next season.
Robinson will be paid significantly less than the $800,000 a year Hayne was believed to have been earning and, if a return to Parramatta was in doubt due to salary cap restraints, Smith has the power to step in and use his marquee player discretion.
‘‘If I wanted to, I could have used my discretionary powers to keep him, but money wasn’t the issue with Jarryd or Sonny, and Sam, for that matter,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But if he wanted to come back, then potentially we could do something that would allow him to return if that issue was to arise.’’
Smith also believes any success Hayne has in the States will have a positive effect on the NRL internationally.
‘‘Jarryd has always been a great ambassador for the game and will shine a bit of a torch for the NRL,’’ he said.
‘‘He is a great player and a great young man who will always be welcome back.’’
NSW coach Laurie Daley said Hayne’s exit was a big setback for his side.
‘‘Jarryd’s decision is obviously a blow but, as he said, he’s not ruling out a return, and hopefully one day he’ll be back in Blue, too,’’ Daley said. ‘‘He’s a tremendous athlete and will be remembered by Blues fans as one of the best to pull on a NSW jumper in State of Origin.’’
Can Hayne make it in the NFL?