Hayden Smith: attended trial in New Jersey. Getty images

Different ball game as Smith to ditch rugby for NFL

Sarries lock has signed a three-year rookie contract worth more than £220,000 a season to play as a tight-end with the New York Jets.

SARACENS LOCK Hayden Smith will switch codes and play with the New York Jets in the NFL next season.

Australian-born Smith has signed a three-year rookie contract worth more than £220,000 a season to play as a tight-end with the Jets after attending a two-week trial in the US last month.

Smith, 26, will become the first professional rugby player to play top-class American football. Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall gave Smith permission to attend the trial thinking little more would come of it and was stunned when he returned with three offers to play in the NFL.

Smith, who was born in Penrith in Australia but also played college basketball for Metropolitan State in Denver, impressed with his speed and agility during their fitness tests.

“The most prominent test is the 40-yard dash and some agility drills, like a three-cone drill and a 20-yard drill. I managed to run 4.75 seconds for the 40-yard dash, which turned some heads,” Smith, who joined Saracens in 2008, told The Daily Telegraph.

“I’ve always said that you have to follow your dream. It’s worked out well for me so far but it’s without a doubt the biggest step that I’ll be taking and it’s something that I’m very excited about.”

Smith was set to join Australian basketball team the Sydney Kings in 2008, but when the Kings folded he returned to the US and began playing rugby union before being chosen to play for the national team in last year’s Rugby World Cup.

From there, he gained a contract to play for Saracens.

The Jets’ most high-profile signing of the off-season, Tim Tebow, meets the press. Pic: Mel Evans/AP/Press Association Images

“I was really amazed at a couple of things,” said former NFL tight ends coach Tim Brewster, who worked with Smith in his quest to join the league.

“First, his ability to assimilate all the information I was throwing at him. Football makes sense to the kid.

“Second, his work ethic is off the charts. He’s a way above average athlete for the position. I think the kid has an outstanding future in the National Football League.”

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