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Cardinals sign ex-Aussie Rules player Joel Wilkinson

While 49ers coach Chip Kelly is "excited" to work with Jarryd Hayne, the former National Rugby League star isn't the only Australian hoping to carve out a role in the NFL.

The Cardinals on Tuesday signed ex-Australian Rules Football player Joel Wilkinson, a 6-foot, 190-pounder hoping to land with the team as a cornerback.

"There's a lot of attributes with the NFL which I love," Wilkinson said Tuesday, per the team's official website. "The team component, the one-and-one component, the sheer power and speed because that's naturally my body type and how I am. And the mentality of the NFL. This is the best of the best. Guys that are ridiculously driven. ... They're all attributes to which I aspire."

Working out in the Phoenix area for the past five months, Wilkinson also spent time talking with former Australian Rules Football player Ben Graham, who spent four seasons punting for the Cardinals from 2008 to 2011.

"Naturally people are going to assume I'm a punter coming from my sport," the 24-year-old Wilkinson said. "But cornerback is a position very similar to what I played in Australia."

During stints with the AFL's Gold Coast Suns and VFL's Northern Blues, Wilkinson played "tagging defender," which asked him to shadow the opposition's top player, similar to a cornerback, although he admits: "There is much more I need to improve on and prepare for, but I'm committed."

It won't be an easy road. Hayne was an athletic and exciting return-man last season, but the Niners chose to release him before bringing him back for a second chance. It will be a major coup for Wilkinson to land with an Arizona club already packed with talent in the secondary.

It's a chance, though, which is all Wilkinson can ask for. Running into Bruce Arians on Tuesday, the Australian summed it up well, telling his new coach: "Thank you for the opportunity."

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