So, it has happened: Valentine Holmes is off to follow a dream and try his hand in the NFL.
Following in the footsteps of Jarryd Hayne, it’s a move which is sure to draw plenty of attention.
I’m not going to sit here and claim to know whether he is going to make it or not – good luck to him.
What I am going to do though is just about write off the Sharks’ chances of a premiership in 2019. In fact, their chances of making the top eight would seem severely reduced without Holmes in what is shaping up as one of the most open NRL seasons in history.
While a majority of teams seem to have improved their sides this season, as well as those who were expected to go well last year but didn’t (read the North Queensland Cowboys and Parramatta Eels), the fight for finals spots could be even tighter than last year.
The statement released by Cronulla in relation to the release of their star fullback made it clear they weren’t impressed:
“This news brings great disappointment to the Cronulla Sharks who have worked hard to re-sign Holmes to a five-year extension, which would have made him the highest paid player in the club’s history.”
And why would they be?
Holmes is a gun and while he had a long career in the NRL ahead as one of the best in the game, this is a monster gamble on his part.
At just 23 years of age, he already has experience for both Queensland and Australia and was one of the top ten players in the game last season with the ability to play both fullback and wing.
While there were questions at the start of last year about whether or not he could play fullback, he proved those doubters wrong as the season went along.
Having an ability to rise up in the face of adversity of poor form is a talent to be admired, and it’s one Holmes came up with in spades when he needed it.
Even though Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan were strong in the halves at times, the Sharks never would have ended up where they did without Holmes leading the way from the back of the park.
His ability to chime in with good running and ball play was just about as good as it gets throughout the second half of 2018.
This is a giant loss for Shane Flanagan, and one which he is going to struggle to replace. But more than that, the club has already lost so much talent from their backline.
Given they made the top four in 2018, it’s hard to write them off entirely, but their work in the transfer market hasn’t been positive, with the loss of gun young centre Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee to the Knights, as well as Ricky Leutele to Toronto.
That’s three out from last year – adding Holmes to that list means there is going to be a lot of change in the back five for a club that struggled for consistency last season.
What will make the Sharks even more frustrated is that planning for 2019 would have included Holmes. That includes allowing a player like Ramien to exit.
When you consider what Ramien will be able to bring to a side in the years to come, it’s a decision which is now going to come back to bite the black, white and blue.
Add that to the loss of Jamayne Isaako two years ago, and it’s all starting to add up now in the backline, with a real lack of options in 2019.
At this stage, it looks as if Kyle Flanagan will finally get rewarded for banging the door down with a spot in the top 17.
Simply put, he has to be in the halves come Round 1. That probably pushes Matt Moylan back to cover the vacancy left at fullback, but then, his up-and-down performances last year don’t warrant a stay of execution at 6.
With a likely spine reading Moylan, Townsend, Flanagan and Jayden Brailey, it’s a far cry from one with Holmes in it.
It’s not just in the backline either. The loss of the retired Luke Lewis, and the ageing problems they have with players like Paul Gallen (37) and Matt Prior (31) will hurt.
That’s not to say Gallen and Prior haven’t been playing quality footy, but Father Time is undefeated. Injury could become a problem, as could the amount of minutes they have to play and workload of a full NRL season.
There is immense talent spread across the forward pack of course, and hopefully for Cronulla’s sake, they can have an injury-free run with Wade Graham this year.
Graham could now become the key to the club making the eight and pushing for higher honours.
The left-edge second rower needs to be at his best, aiding the halves combination, beefing up the defence, and adding a creative option – particularly with new combinations now needing to be tested in the middle of the park.
Still, even with Graham in the side, it just felt like things were tailing off at times last year.
In truth, the Sharks may have been lucky the competition was kept so close. It allowed them to make the run into the finals, where they were ultimately undone by a ruthless Melbourne Storm in the Victorian capital.
They may have only been a few plays away from beating the Roosters in Week 1 and scoring a much-needed week off, which may have landed them in the grand final, but the fact of the matter is that they didn’t, and things aren’t going to get any easier over the next 12 months.
It would appear that Holmes leaving will be the straw which breaks the camel’s back for another premiership in the Shire anytime soon.