As a longtime rugby star in Australia, Jarryd Hayne had no problem with contact.
Without pads and a helmet, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hayne was one of the most dynamic players in the National Rugby League of Australia, a star for the Parramatta Eels. Twice he was the NRL’s Player of the Year.
But beginning Saturday night, Hayne is a raw rookie in a whole new league.
Hayne, now trying to make it in the NFL as a running back and returner for the 49ers, will make his pro football debut Saturday night when the Niners play the Texans in Houston (5 p.m.)
Earlier this week in practice, he showed in 11-on-11 goal-line drills that he could run through contact. Now he’ll get a chance to show what he can do against experienced football players who themselves are fighting for roster spots and trying to impress coaches.
Hayne is a long shot to make the 49ers, who have plenty of depth at running back with Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, drafted rookie Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins. But if Hayne can play well in the preseason he could earn a reserve and special-teams role or a spot on the practice squad.
And Hayne should get plenty of action.
Head coach Jim Tomsula said this week that Reggie Bush will not be returning kicks or punts Saturday, so Hayne and rookie DeAndrew White will share those duties.
“Let’s see where these other guys are,” said Tomsula, who wants to protect Bush.
Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst told Bay Area media this week that Hayne will get a full audition.
“We’re definitely going to use him on all facets of the game: running, catching, fielding on special teams, whatever,” Chryst said. “And at the end of the day we’ll know more about Jarryd. But it’s exciting.”
Hyde is expected to start, but Bush and Hunter may not play at all. That would leave Hayne, Davis and Gaskins to see plenty of snaps.
For his part, Hayne is ready for action. The Aussie wants to prove he can take a hit – and give a hit.
“I’m sure there will be times there I get smashed and I run a little bit upright,” he said early in training camp. “But that’s part of the learning curve. I don’t have fear in that. I’d rather get hit hard and learn like that than beat around the bush and fancy my way through it.”