Shane Flanagan has received the green light to return to the NRL, although Todd Greenberg emphasised this was not to be “a set and forget approach”.
Can you imagine the possibilities?
The grace of a Cook Island mother, the athleticism of a Maori and born and raised in the beautiful north Queensland. It takes courage for a 17-year-old to move from the western suburbs of Townsville to a southern shire of Sydney, but this young fella handled it with a laid-back swagger, an easy smile and a haircut you could set your watch by.
The National Youth Competition isn’t known for its outstanding skill level but it is the cream of the next crop. Oversized young men and little whippets are given the opportunity to live their dream by playing rugby league for a living.
I would argue this is one of the toughest times in any young man’s career. At this level, there is no money, high school is their only education and they have zero life experience – yet the expectation is to eat right, train hard, stay fit, limit the booze and take no drugs. In the case of a lot of young men, especially Holmes, they have left behind everything familiar to them to chase this dream, yet they’re always one injury, one poor decision or a few missed tackles away from being sent home.
Our boy Val Holmes starred with 17 tries in ten games. He represented Queensland under-18s and was offered a spot in the junior Kiwis training squad. By 2014 he stepped up to the under-20s Queensland team and made his NRL debut in what was a very tough year for the Sharks. He scored three tries in six games but never tasted victory.
It was decision time. The Sharks tabled a contract for 2015 to 2017 and are sure there were other clubs with eyes for this clean-cut young gun. Valentine honoured those who gave him a start. Little did he know about the blow up his club was about to experience.
In 2015, a 20-year-old Holmes played 25 games, switching between wing and fullback. He topped the Sharks’ try-scoring list with 16 tries and he kicked a few clutch field goals to help the team to a top-four finish. At the time, he was six-foot tall and 85 kilograms, so no bullocking beast; more a cheetah with eyes for the try line. Whatever the dollar value of his contract, he had paid it back in spades.
But the 2016 season started poorly. He was part of a group of emerging Queensland players who had a night out against team protocol. With that he forwent any chance of Origin honours and was dropped from the 9s tournament. Redemption is not far away, though, as he once again led all Sharks try-scorers, scoring 19 tries, and offered his hand in the goal-kicking duties.
By October that year the 21-year-old Valentine Holmes was a premiership winner. By November he was an Australian representative.
Representative honours continued in 2017. As the incumbent Australian winger he played the Anzac Test and made his State of Origin debut for Queensland. The pressure of that debut game was massive. New South Wales comfortably won Game 1, and though the Blues bounce to a comfortable lead in Game 2, the young Shark finds the line and to level the series.
Back in Queensland for the decider, Holmes shines with a hat-trick of tries and special touches to boot. There are not many who can claim a hat-trick of tries in a single State of Origin game, but there’s no-one in the modern era who can claim 12 tries in a single tournament as he did for Australia in the World Cup.
His outstanding form had the club desperate to keep the off-contract star, and while other clubs were making their intentions clear, he agreed to another two-year extension, this time at a value befitting his contribution to the club but also the promise of an opportunity in the custodian role.
The 2018 season was an interesting time for both the Sharks and Holmes. Val wanted to play fullback but the club bought two of the better fullbacks in the league in Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan. Shane Flanagan, good to his word, started Holmes at the back, but and it was a horrible start to his campaign – six missed tackles, a dropped ball and a conceded penalty in the first-round loss to the Cowboys.
With a bit of humble pie, Val found himself back on the wing, where he remained for six of the next seven rounds. Never let it be said the kid doesn’t have ambition, because he continued to push for that fullback role – and he was happy to tell all who would listen, including the coach.
Come Round 9 he got another opportunity and produced a solid game, setting up a nice try. In Round 10 he announced himself with two tries, a sharp assist and 323 running metres. He would see the wing only twice more for the season, but he established himself as the Sharks’ best as the year peaked at a preliminary final. He was recognised as the 2018 Cronulla Sharks player of the year, the players player of the year and the members player of the year.
Now Valentine Holmes has decided set himself an even higher goal: the NFL. What are his chances? Slim, but knowing how this young man has set himself very lofty goals and exceeded them every time, I’m not going to write him off.
I’ve listened to people talk about the contract and what he owes the club and the fact he didn’t front his teammates with the decision and the poor timing of it all. Cry me a river. Players and coaches are traded like commodities, and a text, Instagram or Snapchat update is usually the go-to method these days. What choice does he have if the story is broken before gets the chance to address them personally?
I agree that if he knew earlier, he should have told the club earlier, but who knows when confirmation came through? What I do know is that this skinny kid from the western suburbs of Townsville had the odds against him coming to Sydney to play football – and he made it. This electric winger had a tough task, cracking the best Origin team in history, but he succeeded.
He’s faced bigger, stronger, faster and more experienced players for Australian selection, but now he’s the first-choice winger and one of the top-three fullbacks in the NRL for 2018 – and he’s still just 23 years old.
Will he make it in the NFL? I dare you to tell him he won’t!