The improbable journeys of millionaire former rugby league star Jarryd Hayne and one-time battler and McDonald’s worker Jordan Berry are set to intersect on Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
It will be an Australian sporting fairytale played out in a game of America’s beloved gridiron.
If it keeps to the script, the perfect storyline will take place just after 3am on Monday AEST with Hayne, as the San Francisco 49ers’ punt returner, standing alone at one end of the field.
At the other end Berry, protected by a wall of Pittsburgh Steelers teammates, will boot the torpedo-like NFL ball high and downfield toward Hayne.
Australian sporting fans, keen enough to be awake at the early hour, will hold their breath waiting to see if Hayne redeems himself or fumbles in a repeat of his nightmare debut error a week earlier against the Minnesota Vikings.
It will be two Australians competing head-to-head in a regular season NFL game.
It appeared as though it wouldn’t happen, with Hayne tipped solely to play running back against the Steelers after veteran teammate Reggie Bush was ruled out with a calf strain.
Bruce Ellington, the 49ers’ punt returner last season and who replaced Hayne last week after his fumble against the Vikings, was expected to get the return gig and field Berry’s bombs.
That would have meant Hayne and Berry likely wouldn’t have been on the field at the same time.
But, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula announced on Friday Ellington had an ankle injury and also might be left out.
That likely leaves Hayne splitting return duties with speedster DeAndrew White and backing up star running back Carlos Hyde.
“Jarryd Hayne does it, DeAndrew White does it,” Tomsula, running through his punt return options, said.
49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst earlier in the week indicated Hayne would be the first option back-up to the team’s star running back Hyde.
Hayne stepped in as Hyde’s back-up against the Vikings when Bush went down and Chryst was impressed.
“Everyone saw the first punt with Jarryd, but we thought offensively he kind of settled down just like any rookie and by the second half he was kind of executing,” Chryst said.
Berry might not have Hayne’s brand recognition back in Australia, but the Essendon-raised 24-year-old, who was last year working in a McDonald’s in Melbourne, has captured the attention of the 49ers’ coaching staff.
Berry beat another Australian punter, Brad Wing, for the Steelers’ punting job and showed why in last week’s season opener against the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The 196cm-tall boot who played at minnow college Eastern Kentucky received plenty of accolades for his two-punt debut, averaging 43.5 yards, with a top kick of 50.
49ers’ special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, who coached Wing at college powerhouse Louisiana State University, has plenty of respect for the kid who will be dropping bombs in Heinz Field.
“This new Berry kid is an excellent punter,” McGaughey said.