Just like the sun rising and setting each day, the NRL rumour cycle barely gives us a day of respite. But Jarryd Hayne in a Dragons jersey?
The whispers are growing louder and louder by the day, and to be fair, why wouldn’t they be?
Hayne is off contract and without a club ahead of the 2019 NRL season. Pre-season is already underway, with clubs getting closer to finalising their 30-man rosters and moving into training. They’re planning for what promises to be one of the most open seasons in the history of the game.
The Dragons are looking for an x-factor – someone who can be a game breaker for them – and to be fair to Hayne, he has shown he has that talent throughout his glittering career.
With all that being said though, there is really no time for late arrivals of such a high nature and players who may not fit into the team and culture.
Whether Hayne would be compatible in the Dragons camp is a complete unknown. I’m not going to claim to know the Dragons players, coach Paul McGregor or the Hayne Plane himself, but there are plenty of worrying signs.
From Hayne’s recent history at the Gold Coast Titans and Parramatta Eels, to the way the Dragons are reportedly trying to bring him in, the whole situation should be making fans of the Red V very uneasy.
It sure is for me.
The first and most concerning factor is the talk of moving Matt Dufty on.
More worrying is the fact rumours have been following Dufty since the middle of last year. He has been linked with other clubs, namely the Warriors, and a move to England in the time period since.
Now, before we go any further, it has to be acknowledged that Dufty has his weaknesses.
When I conducted a top 50 players in the NRL series recently (despite Roarers having a laugh and saying I would need to find room for 13 Dragons players in my top ten), Dufty didn’t even come close to cracking the list.
He has pace and acceleration – in fact, he may be one of the quickest players in the game – and his footwork is lightning when he has the ball in hand.
Some of his tries throughout 2018 were brilliant, and a testament to what he is able to do on the footy field. There was also the odd good sign in defence and some of his ball play at times was excellent, particularly when you compare to the man he replaced at the club, Josh Dugan.
Dugan’s time at the club saw the Dragons have the best ball-running fullback, or close to it, in the game. When it came to ball-playing though, there was none of that coming from the man in number one.
On the other foot, Dufty was burnt numerous times in defence and struggled at times under the high ball. While he read the game well at times, he also made some poor decisions, which could be expected of a youngster, but he will be the first to acknowledge there is a stack of work to be done before he can be considered amongst the games elite fullbacks.
Unfortunately, the flaws in his game seem to have the Red V rushing to find an alternative solution at the back, as if that were the club’s biggest problem last year.
Alas, it most certainly wasn’t. The problem lay in the way the team was managed across the year. Come the end of the season, they looked tired, fatigued, out of energy and like they needed a long holiday.
The fact they were able to get up and beat the Broncos in Brisbane (a game which Dufty played outstanding in, by the way), was something out of the ordinary. Completely unexpected.
And yet, the Dragons supposedly want to bring in someone like Hayne.
Hayne has a recent history which doesn’t read so well. While his first stint in the NRL – the one where he made a name for himself – at the Eels was fantastic, everything since has been on a downhill slope.
His stint at the San Francisco 49ers wasn’t anything special, and nor was it when he made a late bid to play Rugby Sevens at the Olympics for Fiji.
More worrying though is his time back in the NRL.
The Gold Coast experiment didn’t work. It’s as simple as that.
Before Hayne arrived on the Gold Coast, Neil Henry had his team firing at the back-end of 2016. They were building something quite special, based on a culture of work ethic and defence.
Hayne came in and all that went out the back window, and eventually, so did Henry.
2017 would be the last year Henry was on the Gold Coast, and as it turned out, so it was for Hayne. It was a miserable season, where the team culture clearly died as the Titans finished 15th.
Again, some of this is speculation, but there was plenty that came out about Hayne on the Gold Coast. Whether it was the issues with senior players at the club, his attitude to training or other things, there are enough black marks there which should encourage a club with another alternative to not pursue the option.
After the coaching debacle, Hayne moved onto the Eels and it took him a long time to find his feet there as well. For a club who were supposed to be strong in 2018 – a potential top four hope – they floundered, faltered, and eventually picked up the wooden spoon.
Now, Hayne had good moments at Parramatta, but there just weren’t enough of them.
Injuries haven’t helped Hayne over that time period, but the simple fact is that there is a clear problem wherever he has gone since his first run in the NRL ended, and maybe, just maybe, even before that at the Eels.
Everyone was blinded by his incredible exploits of 2009 (trust me, as a Dragons fan, I know them all too well) and seemed to forget about everything that has happened since.
Sure, there is a risk in looking to the future and selecting it over the present, but Hayne is hardly the present.
While the signs were there he was ready to turn things around at the back-end of last year, they just weren’t consistent enough across 25 rounds to suggest he would be an upgrade on Dufty.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what wheeling and deeling in the player market is all about? Upgrading?
This is risk versus reward, and the risk is far greater than the reward when a solid, improving fullback is already stationed in the famous Red V jumper.
If Dufty isn’t in the number one jersey at the start of 2019, let me tell you, the Dragons have made a terrible decision.