How Mailata rejected Souths' $5000 offer, only to score $3.5m NFL deal
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How Mailata rejected Souths' $5000 offer, only to score $3.5m NFL deal

Last year, Souths threw their offer on the table for Jordan Mailata and let's just say it didn't land with a thud: a one-year, $5000 deal to play for their feeder team, North Sydney.

If he stripped another 15kgs from his hulking 142kg frame, and started playing in stints longer than 10 minutes, the Rabbitohs would consider a fulltime contract.

Turning heads: Philadelphia Eagles' Australian offensive lineman Jordan Mailata.

Turning heads: Philadelphia Eagles' Australian offensive lineman Jordan Mailata.Credit:AP

Mailata rejected it … and is now on the verge of making his NFL debut for defending Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles on a four-year deal worth $3.4 million.

So instead of playing for the Bears before three men and a dog at North Sydney Oval on petrol and beer money, Mailata will play in front of 69,000 fans at The Linc, trying to protect the Eagles’ $37 million quarterback Carson Wentz at left tackle in the offensive line with his 203cm, 157kg frame.

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"Who would’ve known that a boy from Bankstown could go this far?" asks the 21-year-old. "You never know unless you try. It’s surreal. But I can’t pinch myself because my hands are sore from training."

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No, not many would’ve thought a boy from Bankstown would make the Eagles’ final 53-man roster, just as they didn’t think he’d get picked up in April’s NFL draft.

Those who were there that day in 2014 when Mailata collapsed on the training field one week before he played his first match for the Bulldogs in the SG Ball (under-18s) competition probably didn’t think it, too.

"That would’ve been my first proper rep season," he says. "When I collapsed at training, I had no idea what happened. I found out that I have a heart disorder. That knocked me out for one-and-a-half years. I gained so much weight because I wasn’t allowed to exercise because of the heart condition and the operations that I had to have in 2015; one in February and then another in September. It was scary at the time but I am healthy now. Crazy."

Mailata blew out to 166kgs but was still a teenage wrecking ball when he returned to the field.

Centre of attention: Jordan Mailata is tackled by a media scrum after making the Eagles' final roster.

Centre of attention: Jordan Mailata is tackled by a media scrum after making the Eagles' final roster.Credit:AP

He played A-grade for Five Dock with his brothers in the Balmain comp. NRL clubs started sniffing around but it was Rabbitohs recruitment man Ben Rogers who ultimately convinced him to come to Redfern as part of their under-20s squad.

One day, in the pre-season, Rogers asked football general manager Shane Richardson to run an eye over the biggest kid on the field at training.

"He’s not fit — but there’s something in him," Rogers said to Richardson.

As he said this, the side was running laps of Redfern. Mailata was a full lap behind.

Instead of finishing with his teammates, he kept running. It was a glimpse of the type of person he was.

Each day, he caught the train from his home in the western suburbs into Redfern. He kept working away until he shed no less than 28kgs.

When he got his chance last season, he was like a giant swatting away flies. Big, strong, fast and skilful.

"I’ve always been that guy," Mailata says. "The opposition would say, ‘Oh, he’s not 14. Then, when I was 18, everyone thought I had kids. I’ve always been that guy."

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He also came without any sense of entitlement and the right attitude thanks to a loving and earnest family.

What concerned the Souths coaching staff was that he was just too big. He didn’t have the lungs to play any more than 10 minutes at a time. When he became tired towards the end of matches, the smaller players ran around him with ease.

Mailata bristles when it's suggested he was too big for rugby league.

"That was a label I was given," he says. "It wasn’t a self-proclaimed label. It was what I was told. I had to cop it on the chin and weigh up the options. They wanted me to play second grade, and there were a lot of second-grade contracts up for grabs at different clubs. Personally, I just wanted a fulltime contract so I could develop. They wanted me to lose 15 more kilos and it was impossible because I was at 10 percent body fat. That wasn’t healthy at all ... But I laugh at it now."

Why wouldn’t he?

Halfway through last year, his management company put together a highlights package for rugby union clubs that might be interested. It found its way to the NFL’s international pathways scouts and, in less than a year, having never played American football before, he's about to realise an impossible dream he never really had.

The Eagles open the NFL season at home against Atlanta on Friday morning EST, although Mailata's chance is expected to come later in the season. Clubs have until 90 minutes before kickoff to declare which of the seven players on their 53-man roster will be inactive for a specific game.

"I honestly don’t know if I will play," Mailata said. "They haven’t mentioned anything so far. I am taking it day by day with my technique, there’s lot to learn. I just keep my head in the playbook."

Indeed, nothing is assured. Unlike other sports, he could be cut at any time and would receive only a fraction of his four-year deal.

But it's encouraging when you hear this from Philadelphia vice-president of football operations Howard Roseman: "When we made this pick, we committed in the draft room that we knew it wasn’t going to be a short-term process."

Mailata might have rejected the $5000 offer last year from Souths, but he remains eternally grateful for their support.

"They gave me a chance," he says. "Without them, I wouldn’t be here."

Learn more about Mailata's story at NFL Undiscovered.