The news this week that Jarryd Hayne has secured a rookie contract with the San Francisco 49ers could have far-reaching implications for rugby league, especially in Australia.
The NRL might have to wake up to a new rival code, even as it continues to battle rugby union and Australian Rules football.
Jarryd Hayne’s decision to test his arm in the padded-up, helmeted ranks of gridiron’s National Football League (NFL) could have far-reaching consequences for the Australian game, and, by implication, the game in Europe too.
Competition for its talented athletes from big money NFL franchises will really bring home the international nature of sport nowadays, even to the most myopic, boneheaded league fan in Australia.
For too long, Australian rugby league has not been alive to the possibilities and threats that an international dimension to sport brings.
This is why football has the Champions League, and rugby union their European competitions, while we have an experimental World Club Series.
The rugby sevens circuit has also helped spread the message of union into places like Sri Lanka and Brazil, while volunteers in our game fight hard with no resources to establish domestic leagues in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
League in Australia rarely cared about the international dimension to the sport, at least over the last two decades or so, because everything was going so well and lucratively for them at home.
If the NFL turns up on their doorstep and starts pinching players, they will be forced to change, however.
We are already seeing signs of a change of culture, and the way the Australians backed the World Club Series was to be welcomed.
But there is still too much heel-dragging in Sydney and its surroundings when international development is on the table.
The failure to have a Great Britain Lions tour was just one example.
Contrast this with the NFL, who now regularly stage games at Wembley. How would the NRL react if they NFL started turning up in Australia to hold games?
With Hayne opening eyes to Australian possibilities, who’s to say that they are not already planning it?
Who’s to say that there is not already a ‘hit list’ of potential gridiron stars in place? When Americans see an opportunity, they tend to grab it.
Should Hayne go well in San Francisco, then the doorway to marketing gridiron more visibly and effectively in Australia will be edged open.
Hopefully, what we will see by way of a reaction will be positive. If players are going to nicked by other codes, and in other countries, then the NRL will need to develop more players.
There is also the possibility of reciprocal marketing opportunities which could help our game grow in the USA.
Part of developing more players is looking at the talent which is potentially available in places like Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga.
Starts have been made in this area, but there is still a lot that the NRL’s cash could be doing in America, Europe and Africa too.
The conveyor belt of talent will need to be fed for the NRL to retain its quality and reputation, and to help keep those huge TV deal dollars rolling in.
So I, for one, welcome any interest shown by American sport in the NRL’s top talent. A healthy dose of competition, and even fear, will do much to dispel the complacency and myopia which has been a feature of Australian rugby league for too long.