In the opening weekend of the NFL season, two native Australian-born players made their league debuts on opposite ends of the country. Today, they face off head to head as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the San Francisco 49ers.
Not to oversell it for American viewers, but it’s a pretty big deal, if the play-by-play provided by an Australian paper of the 49ers’ opening game was any indication, so it certainly matters quite a bit to viewers down under. Top stuff.
While the Steelers debuted their latest in a carousel of punters last Thursday with Jordan Berry, the former Parramatta Eel Jarryd Hayne got his first taste of the regular season in the NFL as a returner and running back, though it turned out to be an easier day for the punter.
Berry, who beat out another Australian, Brad Wing for the starting punting job—the Steelers traded Wing to the Giants, so both are starting this season—had a solid first game, punting twice for a total of 87 yards, averaging 43.5 yards total with a 43-yard net, on one return yard.
Berry’s first punt went 50 yards with a one-yard return that was negated by an illegal block in the back. His second punt late in the game traveled just 37 yards, but it was fair caught within the 20-yard line.
Meanwhile, four days later, Hayne’s first touch was not nearly as smooth, as he muffed the catch on a punt return, fumbling the ball and losing possession. Later in the game, he was given four carries, rushing for 13 yards, adding one reception for seven yards.
Hayne figures to continue to get work against the Steelers behind starter Carlos Hyde, as he backup, Reggie Bush, will be out with an injured hamstring. Bush did not travel with the team, so it is impossible for him to be active for the game.
Of course, Hyde is quickly proving himself to be a bell cow sort of back, carrying the ball 26 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ opening game, so don’t expect him to get too many breathers, especially given the inexperience of the backs behind him.
Hayne is a rookie and Australian native who has lived and played there throughout his life, while Berry has had more time in the States, having gone to college here, punting for Eastern Kentucky, though he went undrafted in 2014.
Both players are older than your average first-year player. Berry is 24 after failing to catch on with a team during his rookie season, while Hayne has already been playing rugby professionally for several years, and has made the switch to American football at the age of 27.
We should figure to see the pair hook up in this game, provided that the 49ers manage to make the Steelers punt. Bush is San Francisco’s primary return man, but is obviously out with an injury. Hayne is next up on the depth chart, provided that they forgive him his muffed punt.