‘Freak’ leaves NRL red-faced
JORDAN Mailata is built like a brinks truck and is as nimble as a Ferrari going around tight corners.
Born in Bankstown in Sydney's west, the 21-year-old was a wrecking ball during his playing days with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the under-20s competition.
At a monstrous 6'8" tall and tipping the scales at close to 150kgs, Mailata was a terrifying figure for opposing defenders who find themselves in the unfortunate position of trying to slow him down.
While his sheer size was remarkably imposing, it was his ability to not only break tackles but run away from defenders which made him a nightmare matchup.
Despite all of his impressive tools and potential to be a game changer in the NRL, no team wanted the young star in the making.
The reasoning behind why nobody wanted the hulking forward should, and will, leave many in the league red-faced.
"All I wanted was to make the NRL but teams said to make first grade I had to lose 10-15kgs," Mailata said to news.com.au while back in Sydney to promote clothing label Johnny Bigg which he is now the face of.
"I'm about 11 per cent body fat, losing weight at that size isn't easy and no team was offering me a chance."
With the door shut on a potential NRL career, Mailata and his team decided to follow through on an option they had on the backburner.
Despite admitting to knowing "peanuts" about the NFL, the choice to make the ultimate move to the States was an easy one.
"We always had the NFL as an option and they offered me exactly what I was looking for, an opportunity for full time training," Mailata said.
Mailata landed in Florida in January with his journey getting underway at the IMG Academy where he was put through his paces.
His eagerness to learn a game he knew nothing about drove him to great heights and it was at pro day where he grabbed everyone's attention.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds and completed the short shuttle in 4.67 seconds. Those times would have put him in the top-10 for both categories had they come at the NFL Combine earlier in the year.
The scouting report on the powerfully built former NRL player listed his strengths as his "tremendous size" along with his "physical and athletic traits"
One NFL executive even stated he was a "freak athlete for his size".
It all lead to the grandest stage of all for NFL hopefuls when Mailata became the first ever rugby league forward in history to get picked in the NFL draft.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles were so blown away by the prospect of Mailata that they moved up in the draft to take him in the seventh round with pick 233.
While he had been in discussions with the team prior to the draft, Mailata wasn't given any assurances his name would be called.
"Honestly I cried, I went in with no expectations but the moment that phone rings it's like someone calling to say there's been a death in the family. I was just overwhelmed with emotion," he said.
Despite being selected in the draft, spots on the roster are still hard to come by and coming from a long way back, Mailata has a mountain to climb.
He entered the Eagles' rookie camp and was keen to show offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland the selection was worth the risk.
"The rookie camps are hard, you don't think they're going to be so brutal but even the guys who have spent their whole lives playing the game were saying how hard it was," Mailata said.
"I'm standing there like 'how are you guys saying this is hard, you should know all of this.'''
Having since been dubbed the 'Thunder from Down Under', Mailata could find himself on the Eagles' 53-man roster thanks to a suspension to a fellow offensive lineman.
With several teams also interested in obtaining the services of the man mountain, the Eagles may be hesitant to release him.
An offensive lineman plays an enormous role for every team as they're tasked with not only protecting the quarterback, but also need to open holes for the running back to exploit.
Starting well behind his fellow rookies, Mailata knows the season ahead will see him spend plenty of time with his head in the books.
"This season will be a lot of learning, understanding the game and how to react in different circumstances," he said.
Mailata's journey has already received an early boost after it was announced he had signed a four-year contract with the Eagles.
Jarryd Hayne knows how hard the move is and he offered up some words of wisdom for the hulking youngster.
"I think he needs to understand you have to expect the unexpected, that's the biggest thing," Hayne told NRL.com.
"You can go into the NFL and understand a little bit of what you're going to learn, but until you sit down in a room and see the playbook, the defensive schemes, it just blows your mind."
Mailata knows he's only taken the first step in what he hopes will be a long journey with the Eagles and his NFL career.
"I've got a lot to prove, so I know with the coaching staff at the Eagles … I'm going to go a long way."
The Eagles 2018/19 NFL season gets underway on August 9 when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first week of preseason.
September 2 will however be the date Mailata will have circled on his calendar as this is the cut off date for NFL teams to reduce their rosters down to a maximum of 53 players.
If Mailata is to earn a place on the roster, it'll prove the NRL made a monstrous mistake by letting the wrecking ball forward go.