By Mike Simpson
We all know of the stories of Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes trying to crack the NFL, but here we explore five former American Footballers who tried their hands at Rugby League… with varying success.
Greg Smith can take away being the only NFL convert to wear the colours of the Newcastle Knights in its 32-year history.
Knight number 123, Smith’s embarrassing switch of codes to rugby league left not only the management of Newcastle red-faced, but Smith himself was also left red-faced during his comedy of errors debut back in 1999 at ANZ Stadium.
The tale though of Greg Smith is one of the strangest stories in rugby league history.
Newcastle coach Warren Ryan, who had coached several of the Americans in the World Sevens team in the late 1990s, enlisted the services of Smith early in 1999.
The American was supposedly a former squad member of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL side, having trialled with the famous NFL franchise several years earlier, but turned out he never played a game with them.
In awe of Smith’s athleticism, Ryan signed the American and following an early-season injury crisis, Smith was given his first-grade debut against Canterbury in Round 6.
Smith promptly vanished from rugby league circles after his disastrous debut and later became a personal trainer for Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and runs his own athletics training business.
Smith still resides in Sydney Australia having married an Australian woman.
22-year-old Brent Calloway could have been anything in rugby league.
The former running back for the University of Alabama, Calloway was given a weeklong trial with Catalans Dragons in 2014, however, after a series of tests, it was in the Dragons best interest to part ways with the American seemingly clueless on the rules of rugby league.
Catalans CEO Christophe Jouffret was disappointed that the club were unable to offer Calloway a contract given his physical condition; however, his lack of skills and knowledge of rugby league meant his time was up with the Perpignan club before it even started.
In a cruel twist of fate, Calloway’s impressive physical condition was tailored made for rugby league.
Weighing in at 100kg, Calloway was capable of some impressive physical feats, including running the 100 metres in 10.8 seconds, and impressed Catalans officials during physical and technical tests.
However, the former NFL college player did come with some unwanted excess baggage. In 2013, Calloway was charged with fraudulent use of a credit card and his rugby league career was over just like that.
The former University of Alabama and Russellville High football player was then charged with the felony of unlawful possession of dangerous drugs and second-degree possession of marijuana on his return home, ensuring his short-lived rugby league career was well and truly over.
With the Walker brothers, Shane and Ben, at the helm for the Ipswich Jets, they have an uncanny knack of going against the grain when it comes to the rules of rugby league.
The innovative pair went one step further in 2018 signing former Washington Redskin Silas Redd bringing the young American over to play in the Queensland Cup competition.
After months of hype surrounding the former NFL running back’s arrival at the Ipswich Jets, Redd finally touched down in Australia full of excitement and nerves.
In 2017, Redd impressed the Walker brothers in an off-season exhibition match in Hawaii when the Ipswich Jets took on the Tweed Heads Seagulls, prompting the co-coaches to bring him on board for the 2018 Intrust Super Cup season.
With so many other American trialists, most tick all the boxes for sheer athleticism, but like so many of his other predecessors, Redd was found out quickly by the Walker brothers.
Redd’s NFL career was also short-lived, playing just 15 games, and scoring one touchdown in the 2014 season.
In 2015 he tore his ACL and MCL, and copped suspensions from the NFL for substance abuse violations (cannabis use during his rehab) before he was eventually waived by Washington in December 2016.
Sadly, Redd never played a single game for the Jets.
Enticed over from the United States by colourful Australian racing syndicate millionaire John Singleton, Manfred Moore was simply straight out of the pages of a comic book.
An enigma at the Newtown Jets, Moore was worth the admission price alone.
Treated like a rock star more than a rugby league player at the Jets, Moore will always be remembered for throwing a rugby league ball (gridiron style) over the top of the Henson Park grandstand.
He was reportedly on $7K a game, which in today’s terms will give you some indication of the extraordinary money he was on.
Interestingly, Moore was the first African American to play in the New South Wales Rugby Football League in Australia when he was signed by the Newton Jets in 1977.
Moore made his first-grade debut just 98 days after the Super Bowl, playing on the wing against the Western Suburbs Magpies before 5,743 curious spectators at Henson Park.
He impressed on debut, scoring the club’s first try of the season.
But Moore’s career at Newtown was short-lived, with the former San Francisco 49ers player injured after only 4 matches and subsequently returned home to be signed by the Minnesota Vikings for the rest of the 1977 season.
Alvin E. Kirkland
The trailblazing American All-Stars rugby league team is one of the most fascinating stories in rugby league folklore.
Seemingly against all odds against some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s best sides, the Americans gave as good as they got.
There were a few standout players that wore the stars and stripes jerseys who impressed the Australian crowds, none more so than the brash Al Kirkland.
So good were Kirkland’s skills in rugby league, he was offered a contract with the Parramatta Eels.
Kirkland, the best of the Americans, opted to take up the contract and stayed in Australia where he was a smash hit.
He worked at St Marys Munitions Factory in Sydney whilst playing and training with the Parramatta Club in 1956.
He started the season as a winger but took to the game so well, that he played some matches in the centres and at five-eighth.
He appeared in all 18 first grade matches in 1956 for the Eels and scored four tries.
It would however be his only season in the Sydney competition, opting to head back to America to play his beloved gridiron.
Kirkland was a revelation in rugby league and will go down as one of the most successful converts to have ever played the game.