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Shattered Eels CEO Scott Seward says there's no way the NRL can be held responsible for the sensational departure of superstar Jarryd Hayne, given they offered to help finance what would've been the richest rugby league deal in history.
Back in May this year, the NRL announced a raft of changes to the current salary cap, one of which was giving NRL CEO Dave Smith "discretion to compete with other codes to recruit or retain players in exceptional circumstances."
After being informed of his fullback's decision to pursue an NFL career on Tuesday, both Seward and Hayne met with Smith to discuss what would've been the first instance of the game's boss using his new powers.
The club had recently begun initial negotiations to extend the current deal of their franchise star, which expired at the end of the 2015 season. But instead of taking an offer that would've instantly made him the highest earner in the NRL – understood to be in the vicinity of $1.5 million per season – Hayne will soon head to Los Angeles unemployed.
"We had the conversation with Dave and Dave made it quite clear that if the reasons had to do with finance, he would've certainly used his powers and thought about the discretionary spend that he had," Seward told NRL.com.
"I thought it was great to see the support from Dave and NRL. But we got to the stage where we could clearly tell it wasn't about money, it wasn't about the club, or it wasn't about the game as a whole.
"It was about Jarryd chasing his dream to play in the NFL. So it was great to have that support from Dave and head office. But at the end it wasn't about that."
Seward said he was both disappointed and excited to see one of the NRL's finest trailblaze a path that no rugby league player has travelled before.
"He's a pioneer in what he's about to do, or attempt to do. I'm disappointed – no, I'm shattered –that he's leaving us, but there's also a part of me that's really excited for him as a person to have that opportunity that as an athlete and a person to go and try something that has never been done before," he said.
"You've got to be proud of him for that. You've got to hope he succeeds. And I hope he does succeed. I hope also at some stage he comes back and wears the blue and gold and comes back here.
"But I can't challenge why he's doing it. I wish I could, but I can't. He's speaking from the heart, he's speaking with pure emotion about what Jarryd Hayne wants to do as a person and as an athlete and you've got to admire that."
Club chairman Steve Sharp remained confident of a bright future without their talismanic skipper, and pointed to a new culture under coach Brad Arthur.
"How do we go forward? We're building a team at the moment, as we're rebuilding the club that has a culture where we can win without Jarryd Hayne," he said.
"We did it last year in one of the three games Jarryd didn't play last year – we knocked over the Bulldogs who went on to play in a grand final. That's the sort of culture we're building.
"Obviously we'll be in the market for any quality players who come along, but we've got a sensational group of juniors coming through our 18s and 20s at the moment. They're going to fill the void.
"I can tell you something from my days of playing, when I played under the great Jack Gibson: On one occasion he came up and said to me, 'Listen son, footballers are like a finger in a barrel full of water, you pull the finger out and the space is filled.' You just keep moving on."