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Australian Rugby Star Hayne Signs with NFL's 49ers

Jarryd Hayne smiles as he announces his free agent contract with the National Football League team the San Francisco 49ers at a press conference in Sydney, Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

Australia's reigning National Rugby League Player of the Year is taking on a new challenge for 2015 on a different kind of field thousands of kilometers from home.

Jarryd Hayne signed a three-year contract to play American football for the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers, where he will try to make the team as a running back or punt returner.

The 27-year-old announced his decision Tuesday at a news conference in Sydney, months after saying he wanted to try playing football.

"The hard stuff starts now, and when I get over there and start training, that's when it's business and that's when it's going to obviously going to take the big steps and the big boundaries and all the kit and caboodle that comes with transitioning into an NFL player is going to happen," Hayne said.

He had interest from two other franchises -- the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks -- but said he chose San Francisco because new head coach Jim Tomsula had knowledge of rugby and best understood the challenges of making the transition.

The contract is not a big risk for the 49ers, with just $100,000 in guaranteed money. Last year, the team paid veteran leading rusher Frank Gore $6.45 million.

NFL teams will gather in July for training camps, but allow more players than the final 53-man roster to participate in those practices and exhibition games. Hayne will not know if he makes the 2015 team until San Francisco makes its final cuts just before the league kicks off the season on September 10.

The 49ers were one of the NFL's top teams in 2011, 2012 and 2013, making one Super Bowl appearance and twice falling one game short. But last year the team finished with an 8-8 record, failing to make the playoffs and leading to the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh.