South Sydney prop Tom Burgess believes the introduction of the NFL International Player Pathway Program will lead to more NRL players making a successful transition to the American code.
Former Rabbitohs forward Jordan Mailata graduated from the program last year to become the seventh round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles, while ex-Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes has been added to the New York Jets practice squad.
Holmes was one of four overseas players seconded to AFC East teams in a random draw after spending three months training in Florida under the supervision of the NFL’s Will Bryce and IMG Academy as part of the program.
The Jets were among five NFL franchises Burgess visited on his way home from England’s Test series win over New Zealand at the end of the 2015 season but the International Players Pathway Program did not come into effect until two years later.
With a body shape which was compared with legendary former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Burgess underwent speed and agility testing, along with health checks, which included a series of scans, but he did not return.
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“It’s great that since I went over there and had a bit of a workout with some teams the international player program has been bought in,” Burgess said.
“It gives squads a chance to draft someone. I think they are a bit more open to players who go over there now and if someone is willing to give up what they’ve got in another sport and put it all or nothing into them they are pretty interested in that.”
Burgess said he had expected Holmes to attract attention from NFL clubs and believes the Jets are a club which will help him to make a successful transition.
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Former Geelong AFL star Ben Graham played for the Jets as a punter from 2005 to 2008, while ex-English rugby union forward Hayden Smith played for the franchise in 2012.
“I knew he [Holmes] would get a chance,” Burgess said.
“I went to train at the Jets as well so I know that they are really open there.
“They were really good with me when I was there. They showed me a few things and the players came and gave me a few tips when I was working out so I am guessing he has had the same treatment and he has been given a chance there too.
“I’m pretty excited for him. I’ve always thought that anyone could go over there if they really wanted to and give it a shot. Obviously you have got to be talented but everyone in the NRL is so it is just about who wants it.
“From my experience of being over there, they love someone who has got a bit of will and wants to do well. They talk about we haven’t played the game growing up but I don’t think that matters really. It is more about mindset. They can teach you most things.”