Former league star Jarryd Hayne is stoking interest in American football Down Under and a top NFL coach believes there’s no reason a New Zealander can’t be the next “Hayne train”.
Promotion group Douglas Webber, which has brought the Crusty Demons and ice hockey to these shores, is working through the final details of bringing two 50-strong gridiron squads to New Zealand next March for games in Auckland and Wellington.
It has secured the services of Mike Holmgren, who coached the Green Bay Packers to Super Bowl victory in 1996, to coach one side and Mike Shanahan, who also coached the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl wins, will lead the other.
Holmgren, 67, said he jumped at the chance to visit New Zealand, which was on his bucket list.
He doesn’t yet know who he will be coaching – but they will be mostly fringe NFL players.
“I think it’s another opportunity for the players that almost made it into the NFL, to give them another chance to get looked at again,” he told NZ Newswire.
Holmgren was a fan of Australian Jarryd Hayne‘s successful switch from league to American football.
“It’s a big story, and it’s a good story. Here’s a young guy, quite honestly I don’t think many people gave him a chance to make it.
“Not only did he make the team but he’s doing some wonderful things for them. He’s playing well and he’s making a difference.
“I think people are going `wow, there might be few more of those guys running around down there’.”
There was always the chance US scouts could be looking for similar New Zealand talent.
“Are there a lot of Jarryd Haynes around? I don’t know that… scouts are always looking for athletes and if they can project a player and plug him into some portion of the NFL, yeah teams will take a chance on him.”
Holmgren is a fan of rugby and hopes to watch some games while here.
Both rugby and American football required athleticism, ball skills, talent for tackling and avoiding tackles.
“The difference is you have more bulky equipment on (for the American game).”
Holmgren said there was a move to expand American football, to get people watching and talking about it around the world.
Part of that was the NFL-backed NFL Europe, which was successful for a while but ended in 2007.
He wasn’t too concerned American football might not compete against rugby here.
“We don’t stop trying. Whether it catches on or not at the very least there’s a lot of goodwill there.
“I trust we will put on a good enough show that people will really like what we are doing.”