GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Jarryd Hayne made his return from a stint in the NFL and showed flashes of his past exploits in the National Rugby League, but couldn't prevent his new team Gold Coast from losing to the New Zealand Warriors in a key match Sunday.
The Warriors won 24-14, moving ahead of the Titans into seventh place in the race for a top-eight playoff spot.
Hayne, who left the San Francisco 49ers and unsuccessfully tried out for Fiji's Olympic rugby sevens squad, signed with the Titans on Wednesday. He came on in the 28th minute to sustained applause from a sellout crowd of 25,000; double the average attendance this season.
The TV broadcasters also embraced Hayne's return, offering a "Hayne Cam" in which one half of a split screen featured only Hayne.
He made an impact on his first play as a Titan, tackling Warriors' backrower Bodene Thompson when Thompson seemed destined to score. Hayne then outjumped two Warriors players to take a high kick at the other end of the field, his efforts nearly ending in a try for his new team.
Early in the second half, Hayne drove Warriors' star Johnson onto his back in a big one-on-one tackle, the Kiwi international fumbling the ball from the impact.
Hayne finished the game with a try assist, his 20-meter "grubber" kick resulting in the final try of the match to winger Anthony Don.
He said match fitness was the biggest issue.
"Just the minutes in the legs, that's something you really can't get at training because of the contact, and how ferocious it is out there on the field," Hayne said. "I've played in a lot of big games where mentally it's got me through it. It wasn't anything I didn't expect or couldn't handle."
In mid-May, Hayne announced his retirement from the 49ers in order to push for selection in the Fiji rugby sevens team for Rio.
The 28-year-old Hayne surprisingly made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp as a rookie running back last year with San Francisco. Playing eight games with one start, he had 17 carries for 52 yards and six catches for 27 yards while also returning eight punts for 76 yards.
His rugby sevens career turned out to be even shorter. Hayne struggled to adapt to the pace and fitness demands of sevens — a modified version of traditional rugby in which teams play several matches in tournaments that last two to three days.
Hayne began his NRL career in 2006, and scored 103 tries in 176 matches for the Parramatta Eels, the only NRL team he had played for before signing with the Titans.
In the only other match Sunday, the Wests Tigers beat defending champions North Queensland 26-14.
The weekend results left Melbourne in first place with 38 points, one ahead of the Cronulla Sharks. Canberra is in third place with 31 points, followed by the Canterbury Bulldogs with 30.