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Jarryd Hayne helps 49ers to last game win
On the bench for most of the game against St Louis Rams, Jarryd Hayne did come on late as a special teams player and made an important intervention.
San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke talks to Michael Chammas about why Jarryd Hayne was dropped and why he can still make it in the NFL.
From the moment Jarryd Hayne fumbled his first punt in the NFL in San Francisco's Monday Night Football clash with Minnesota, the former NRL star faced a constant battle to prove he belonged.
Second chances in the cut-throat industry that is American football don't occur often for rookie fringe players, but the 49ers persisted with the man who had dominated the headlines in the preseason.
Unfortunately for Hayne, his opening-night jitters were compounded by a couple more fumbles in the coming weeks that would culminate in his demotion to the 49ers practice squad.
"All the decisions we made from a roster standpoint, we made collectively with the personnel and the coaching staff sitting down and trying to make a decision on what's best for the football team in that period of time," Baalke said.
"In that point in time, we just felt he needed more time, he needed more seasoning and we needed some guys on the 53 that could be on the 46 that would give us the best chance of winning football games."
The decision to waive Hayne opened the door for rival clubs to snatch the 27-year-old and perhaps reap the benefits of the 49ers' investment into transforming the rugby league superstar into an NFL player.
It was a decision the club didn't take lightly, but they believed his rawness in combination with his much-publicised struggles in the opening weeks would more than likely deter other organisations from snapping him up.
"Any time you waive a player during the season, you risk the chance of losing them. That's the way this business is set up," Baalke said.
"So you try and do the best you can in making those decisions and look at it from an outsider's perspective and say to yourself 'ok, what is the likelihood of this guy getting claimed'.
"I think that there were enough signs that he was still ways away in respect to development, that we felt there was a good chance he would make it through waivers and we'd be able to put him on our practice."
IS THIS HAYNE'S MAKE OR BREAK SEASON?
You can be almost certain Hayne will not be back in the NRL in 2016, but his whereabouts beyond that will hinge on what he makes of his second season in the NFL.
Hayne will be 28 in a fortnight and despite overcoming the odds to achieve what he did in his rookie season at the San Francisco 49ers, time is still against him.
If he makes an impact and can develop into a regular contributor in the NFL, you can be assured he won't want to waste what he has learned and will attempt to forge a four- to six-year career out of the sport.
But if he struggles to make an impact, he will begin to entertain the thought of joining one the several NRL clubs lining up for his services, led by the Sydney Roosters.
Baalke also highlighted the significance of a player's second season, admitting Hayne had a big pre-season ahead of him.
"I think this off-season will be huge," Baalke said. "They always say the biggest jump for a player is between year one and year two. We expect the same for Jarryd. He knows what it takes now, he knows what he needs to work on, and I know he is focused on working on those things this off-season."
HOW DOES HAYNE FIT INTO THE CHIP KELLY REGIME?
New San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly is known as somewhat of an innovator, with general manager Trent Baalke confident Jarryd Hayne would be given every opportunity to land a spot on the 53-man roster in 2016 despite former coach Jim Tomsula's departure.
Baalke said the new coach was well aware of Hayne's background and was excited to begin working with the 27-year-old at the start of preseason training in April.
"We haven't spent a ton of time speaking about individual players on a roster yet but I'll tell you he's well aware of Jarryd and Jarryd's story, as is everyone in the National Football League by now.
"He's excited to get his hands on him, the whole coaching staff is. We'll find out in short order who fits and who doesn't fit."
WHY HAYNE WAS OVERLOOKED FOR PLAYERS FROM OTHER CLUBS
Every time a 49ers running back was injured there was renewed belief that Hayne would return to the club's active roster. The 49ers lost Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis at different stages of the season, but Hayne's recall wasn't forthcoming.
Instead the 49ers opted to bring in players from the practice squads of rival franchises, raising doubts over Hayne's future in the sport.
"If you look at the transactions we made, we brought in guys that had four or five years' experience in the National Football League," Baalke said.
"We just felt at the point in time, they were going to give us the best opportunities to win. It was nothing against Jarryd, I think Jarryd understands where he is at. It will be a valuable experience for him. He got to move up late in the season and took advantage of some of the opportunities he was given.
"If you ask him, he will tell you it was a great learning experience. The game is different, there are aspects of the game that take a little bit longer to prepare for then maybe some of the other areas. It's a process and I think he's done a nice job."
WHY IT TOOK SO LONG FOR HAYNE TO RETURN
With the 49ers' play-off aspirations well and truly gone, and the club's running back stocks at a ridiculous low, Hayne returned for the final two matches of the season.
There was plenty of conjecture during his absence over his future at the club, which was only fuelled by comments from now former special teams coach Thomas McGaughey claiming "it just didn't work out" for Hayne as a punt returner.
It appeared as though there were varying views on the Hayne experiment from within the organisation, but Baalke insists he never fell out of favour at the club.
"All I can tell you is that from my perspective and the conversations I had with the coaching staff were all very positive," Baalke said.
"We all just felt at the stage we waived him, he just needed more time. You can't keep guys on the 53 if they're not contributing on Sundays. You can't have a bunch of those guys.
"We just felt it was an opportunity for him to get back and practice and learn the game a little bit more and he took full advantage of that and as you saw, managed to work his way back on the 53 at the end of the season."
DOES HAYNE HAVE ANY GUARANTEES IN HIS CONTRACT?
In September last year, Baalke told Fairfax Media that had Hayne been guaranteed a spot on the team's practice squad at the very least. While he exceeded expectations to land a position on the 53-man roster, he heads into the new year without any such promises.
"The promise we made him has been fulfilled, that he would get every opportunity to make this football team," Baalke said.
"We like Jarryd, we like him a lot. He's an excellent teammate, the guys love him, he's a talented athlete. Now can he make the transition and make the big jump to put himself in a position to be on the 53 – hopefully the 46? We're going to find out once we get out the balls and let these guys start playing again. But he's a guy we love having around that's for sure."