The Wasps wing could become the top try-scorer in Premiership history but that is not stopping him from chasing an NFL dream
Christian Wade Is Swinging For The Fences With NFL Move
The news that Christian Wade has stepped away from rugby to pursue a career in American Football’s NFL is a stunner.
The 27-year-old winger is third on the all-time try-scorer list in the Premiership. In fact, in the current issue of Rugby World, team-mates at Wasps wax lyrical about the wide man’s ability to make something out of nothing. As team-mate Jimmy Gopperth told us: “Not many players have that X-factor and it baffles me that he’s not had better luck internationally.”
Such a statement may offer potential reasoning for Wade’s shocking switch – perhaps there is frustration at a lack of opportunities to represent England – whilst also compounding how gobsmacking such a move would be.
Currently details are scant. So we do not know via which route the hot-stepping Wade, who has only ever earned one England cap, intends to attack the NFL. But we know about those who have gone before him.
Wade could try the IMG Academy. They train athletes to be ready for the NFL combine – the ‘meat market’ where hopefuls, with an overwhelming majority out of college, jump, sprint, lift and run around cones to impress scouts. Operating out of a base in Florida, they work with newbies to teach and drill and practise with hopefuls so they can learn the vagaries of a new game.
That is a tough ask. For all the talent an athlete possesses, there are too few polymaths who can excel in several differing sports. As it stands, two former rugby union players in Christian Scotland-Williamson and Alex Gray are currently on practice squads. Both tight ends, Scotland-Williamson is in his first year of a protected contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Gray is in his second year with the Atlanta Falcons.
Both men have had to battle to get where they are, and both have some way to go to convince teams to let them take plenty of snaps in the big show. Former Aussie rugby league U20 player Jordan Mailata is finding his feet, learning to play left tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles – but again, he is yet to play.
Then we think back to league star Jarryd Hayne’s on-again-off-again stint with the San Francisco 49ers, where ultimately some dropped kick returns saw him demoted from the active team to the practice squad. He did not hang around for another season.
Which means, while some are salivating at the prospect of Wade being a kick returner in the NFL, there is plenty to temper such enthusiasm.
Just check out the thread of tweets which starts here for some thoughts on this:
There are lots of little things mentioned on that stream. And there’s more.
Handling visas can be a nightmare, first off. But let’s say that’s sorted for him. There’s then learning the basics, possibly with someone at IMG, maybe directly with private coaches or a team who has already said they are keen on him as an undrafted free agent – like Hayne when he was snapped up.
But as the tweet thread posted above suggests, there are a lot of moving parts to life in the NFL and no matter how basic you make a role – as some would like, just a kick returner on special teams – you still have to operate within a rigid framework. There are so many other players and coaches involved in any one play call and in meetings you have to understand what the lingo means. You still have to match their hours in the analysis rooms, if not put in more as a rookie.
Kids in the United States learn early on about the number of hours needed in training and watching game film. They learn early how to consume and disseminate different playbooks piling up. There is, frankly, little like it in western sports outside the US and Canada; certainly not in the UK and Ireland. So say experts who have worked in both rugby and the NFL.
Which is not to say this is all beyond Wade. He could take to it no bother.
Some will scoff at his age; that it is too late to pick things up. But look at his gifts. His feet are impressive regardless of the sport he is in.
If suggestions of disillusionment are true, and he is truly hungry for a new challenge, then what a journey to embark upon now.
Sure, you could advise Wade to hang on for a little while, try to break the Premiership try-scoring record. Then if he is still fed up, a former Wasp, coach Shaun Edwards, is taking over at Wigan Warriors in Super League post 2019 World Cup so he could give him a buzz.
But then, rugby league in the UK does not quite have the glittery sheen of American sports, does it? If you are going to take a big swing, make it the biggest swing possible. If you don’t make the fences, at least you will have an incredible story about the attempt.