Ex-Rabbitoh Jordan Mailata chosen in NFL draft by Philadelphia
What started as a back-up plan to an NRL contract with South Sydney this season has resulted in former Rabbitohs under 20s prop Jordan Mailata being selected in the NFL draft by Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles.
Mailata, who is 200cm and weighs 160kg, was chosen by the Eagles as the 233rd overall pick in the seventh round of the NFL draft at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday.
Despite never having played American football, Mailata's size and athleticism impressed Philadelphia offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, and his rugby league background has generated interest in NFL circles following Jarryd Hayne's stint with San Francisco 49ers.
"Unfortunately, I do not know Jarryd Hayne personally, we haven't really connected, but I am sure now we might have a few words," Mailata told NFL Draft Live after his selection.
The NFL media also wanted to know about Russell Crowe's role as co-owner of South Sydney and the origins of the Rabbitohs nickname, which was adopted from the calls of rabbit sellers on the streets of Redfern in the early 1900s.
"Rusty, he's a great bloke," Mailata said of Crowe. "I am not sure if he signs the cheques [at South Sydney] but somebody does".
Asked to explain what a Rabbitoh was, he said: "It's pretty much a rabbit. It's called a Rabbitoh. I am not sure who came up with that name, but it is pretty much a rabbit."
Besides his potential as an offensive tackle with the Eagles, the main interest was why Mailata had decided to pursue an NFL career.
His manager Chris Orr organised for North Queensland's Jason Taumalolo and Cronulla's Valentine Holmes to undergo NFL testing two years ago and after Mailata was told he needed to lose more 20kg to play in the NRL, he suggested the prop attend the IMG Academy in Florida.
"Towards the end of my rugby last year I composed a little highlight video, as a back-up, to figure out what I was going to do with my life," Mailata said.
"My agent knew some NFL people who ran this international program and I was fortunate enough to get their attention. They flew me out to LA last November and I worked out for them and I was fortunate enough to get on the program.
"I will only be 21 years of age so I thought why not give it a try, I am still young."
The highlights package, which shows Mailata trampling opponents in the NYC last season, was played at the Draft and posted by the NFL's official Twitter account after he was selected as Philadelphia's last pick, with the caption: "His highlights are ... insane, dominant, ridiculous."
"I was considered one of the biggest rugby league players," he said. "I started training for the last four months to try and pick up the game of football. I am far behind but it is a challenge and it is something I knew I had to take on."
Mailata caught the attention of Stoutland at an NFL Pro-Day last month, during which he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds and completed the short shuttle in 4.67 seconds - times that would have put him in the top 10 at the NFL Combine earlier this year.
While Stoutland believes Mailata can make it in the NFL as an offensive tackle, it was suggested he also had the skills to play as a tight end.
"Of course I can catch, in rugby league we have to pass the ball, but I am enjoying my time at offensive tackle," he said.
Mailata now faces the arduous task of making Philadelphia's final 53-man roster and has acknowledged it may take three years before he is ready but his former Rabbitohs team-mates are backing him to succeed.
"Playing with him in the under 20s, you just had to give him the ball 10 metres out and no one could stop him from that close to the line," Rabbitohs halfback Adam Doueihi told NRL.com recently. "Last year he was unstoppable, and he actually hurt a few kids because he was such a big kid."
Under the guidance of then Rabbitohs head coach Michael Maguire, Mailata managed to get his weight down to 145kg after arriving at the club during the 2017 pre-season at 168kg.
In 12 appearances from the interchange bench for the Rabbitohs, Mailata scored eight tries but he was only able to manage an average of 21 minutes per game.