Jarryd Hayne has watched more Super Bowls than NRL grand finals

Jarryd Hayne returned a punt 37 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale. Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Jarryd Hayne has watched more Super Bowls than NRL grand finals.

Even five years ago, this would have been a staggering statement for a young man from Minto, in rugby league's Western Sydney heartland. More so for the hottest property in the NRL. But in 2016? Not so. The NFL has risen to prominence in a crowded Australian sporting landscape, as Hayne knows all too well.

"I'd been hearing about it since I was about 16 or 17" he told ESPN exclusively. "My physio was a huge fan, and always said I'd be a good running back. I wouldn't say it was because of him, but it definitely had a bit of an impact."

The man, whose audacious venture captured the attention of a nation, can pin-point the moment he fell in love with America's favourite sport.

"When I first watched a game and actually met a few of the players," he said.

Hayne first watch a game on a big screen in Sydney in 2007, with then Parramatta Eels NRL team-mate Brett Finch.

"I was mesmerised."

Hayne was hooked, but not until 2012 did he begin to dream about playing in the NFL, after attending a Dallas Cowboys game at Texas Stadium with Eels team-mates Tim Mannah and Joseph Paulo.

"It's an up-tempo sport, even with the stop-start ... it's physical, it's brutal. It's really tough," he says by way of explanation why American football has caught on so fast Down Under even if he never foresaw the sport's meteoric rise in popularity.

"The way the NFL market is, it is like no-other. It's incredible. You can understand why it appeals to Australians."

That appeal manifested itself in blanket Australian coverage of Hayne's journey in 2015; seemingly everyone had an opinion as Hayne sizzled in the pre-season, delighting fans and silencing doubters. He quickly went from novelty to headliner. So much so that Hayne's first NFL game, the Niners' season-opening victory against the Minnesota Vikings, was the most watched ESPN broadcast ever in Australia. But early excitement abated quickly as he muffed a punt with his first touch to return possession to the Vikings.

Handling woes continued and Hayne was unceremoniously dropped to the Niners' practice squad.

Would he change a thing?

Not a chance.

"It's all part of the experience," he told ESPN. "I had a ball over there. I had a load of fun, met a lot of great blokes."

Hayne's return to the U.S. will have new challenges. With Chip Kelly now at the helm of the 49ers - and a brand new, high-octane playbook to memorise and execute - Hayne is determined to prove himself in every aspect of the game.

"Running. Catching. Blocking. Reads. You always want to improve. There's no one thing. Every aspect of the game I want to work on. As we hit the training paddock, intensity will pick up, and get me in good shape to work in Chip [Kelly's] offence.

"Any good athlete will tell you, there's never a time that you can't want to train, that you can't look forward to it. As long as you're looking forward to training, and always wanting to push yourself. It will be OK."

(And, by the way, Jarryd Hayne's watched 10 Super Bowls.)