30 Aug 2018

Sport: NFL eyes up more Pacific talent

12:29 pm on 30 August 2018

The NFL is searching for talent in the Pacific Islands as it prepares to stage the first ever International Combine in Australia.

Fiji and Samoa are among six locations where talent scouts are conducting testing days, in which athletes will be put through a series of speed and agility tests to assess their suitability for America's most iconic sporting league.

Brett Pickett from Pacific Sports Management said the NFL hoped to unearth the next Jordan Mailata, the former South Sydney Rabbitohs Under 20s rugby league player, who was drafted by Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles in April, despite having never played the sport.

"We got (him) into the IMG Academy in Florida earlier this year and he was successful in that - he ended up being entered into the NFL Draft and he got drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles," he said on the line from Suva, during the first day of testing down under.

"Jordan is a big six foot eight 160kg Australian-Samoan athlete who they very much liked and that's opened their eyes to think there might be more Jordan's down here so they've engaged us to search the Oceania region to see if we can't unearth the next Jordan."

Jordan Mailata (R) playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in a NFL pre-season match against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jordan Mailata (R) playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in a NFL pre-season match against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo: AFP

The testing days - targeting athletes in good physical condition who will be 21-25 in 2019 - were only announced a couple of weeks ago and organisers have been encouraged by the strong turnout at such short notice.

"We've had over 50 athletes turn up today, which we're pleased about given the short time-frame we've had to promote this event," said Brett Pickett during a break in testing in Suva.

"There's been a lot of guys come down here - there are some guys who we've certainly have our eyes on. There's a couple of guys who are probably are a little too early - need to probably build their strength and their physique and their athleticism - but it's only year one.

"Especially some of the young young guys have the years ahead of them to make themselves appropriately sized for this event but there's quite a number of guys down here that we think we'll pass on to the NFL and see if they share our opinion about their potential to play the NFL game."

A second NFL camp will be held in Wellington on Sunday.

The second NFL testing day was held in Auckland on Wednesday. Photo: RNZ/Clay Wilson

Athletes of Pacific Island heritage have a long history of success in the NFL: Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who is of American Samoan descent, won two Superbowl titles; the father of Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was born in the US territory; while Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Star Lotulelei was born in Tonga.

Brett Pickett said the sheer size and raw athleticism of Pacific athletes was a perfect fit for the NFL.

"That's what we found in Jordan. The man is six foot eight and 160kg but he runs the 40 yard dash under five seconds and he's got explosive power to change direction," he said.

"A lot of these Polynesian athletes just have that natural athletic ability and it's raw - and it needs to be refined to the NFL game - but it's just that pure, raw athleticism I think a lot of these guys have that we certainly like and I think the NFL like."

Following stops in Suva and Auckland, Apia will host the third testing day on Friday, before the roadshow reaches Wellington, Brisbane and Sydney.

From there, 75 athletes will be flown to the Gold Coast to participate in the inaugural NFL International Combine in the first week of October.

Up to five players will then be selected to spend three months at the IMG Academy in Florida, with the goal of securing a place in next year's NFL Draft.