Valentine Holmes has returned an even better player than when he left for the NFL.
Valentine Holmes has returned an even better player than when he left for the NFL.

Untold impact of how Holmes split shattered Sharks

You want to know the irony about Cronulla letting Valentine Holmes go to the NFL?

They've created a more dangerous athlete.

Which has to hurt, right?

You sign a kid from Townsville, coach him up, and provide all possible pathways to Origin, internationals, even an NRL premiership.

Then, when this same fella wants to go chasing an unlikely of dream … well, you let him do that too.

 

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A decision, coincidentally, which will make Holmes even better than the footballer who quit Cronulla after a 2018 season that had him first for linebreaks, second for tries and right in the conversation for most devastating NRL attacker.

Which again, has to hurt the Sharks.

Maybe not so quickly as this Saturday night, when Holmes suits up against them for the first time in his new Cowboys No.1 jersey.

Or even when they meet again in August. But at some point, he is set to break their hearts.

Has to.

Just ask Peter Parr.

 

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That North Queensland director of football who, long before signing Holmes from the NFL on that $5.7 million deal, was part of a Cowboys football department who, in 2012, effectively lost him.

Which has always been the knock on North Queensland, right?

That, somehow, they missed this Townsville schoolboy who once tore up their own backyard.

"But that's a myth," Parr insists. "As a schoolboy, we offered Val a four-year deal.

"A substantial deal, too.

"But for whatever reason, he decided to sign with the Sharks."

 

They let him slip through their fingers once... but Valentine Holmes is a Cowboy now. Picture: Dave Acree/NRL Photos
They let him slip through their fingers once... but Valentine Holmes is a Cowboy now. Picture: Dave Acree/NRL Photos

Which initially, had no real impact on the Cowboys.

But over time?

"Oh, God knows how often Val has scored length of the field tries against us," Parr laughs. "I can remember five, maybe six times where he scored from intercepts, from picking up a bouncing ball near his tryline … everything."

So maybe Sharks fans should look away now.

Especially given that, some 20 months after letting Holmes quit his contract, the club now faces its old poster boy - a fella they wanted to make the richest Shark ever - for the first time in Townsville.

When Holmes walked out in 2018, Cronulla had just finished within one game of an NRL Grand Final.

 

Valentine Holmes was a forced to be reckoned with at Cronulla. Picture: Brett Costello
Valentine Holmes was a forced to be reckoned with at Cronulla. Picture: Brett Costello

Yet this weekend, the 24-year-old fullback finds his old club reeling.

Not only slumped winless in 13th, but still icing up from the consecutive blows that have been losing Holmes to the Cowboys, Josh Morris to the Roosters and Bronson Xerri to an alleged drugs conviction.

Together, this trio could have proved a combination to rival rifles and rum.

But incredibly, the Sharks now appear to have lost all three.

Worse for Shire fans is news that Holmes, after a year on the New York Jets practice squad, will prove a better player in 2020 than ever before in a career already boasting five Origins and 13 Tests.

According to Parr, the Cowboys are rapt with how Holmes has presented since his US stint.

While Sydneysider Colin Scotts, who famously played defensive tackle for the 1987 St Louis Cardinals, predicts Holmes is set to take his game to another level.

"Val may not have made the NFL," Scotts says, "but he will definitely come back a better athlete.

"He is already so beautifully balanced when he runs.

"And in my opinion, boasts the best sidestep anywhere in the NRL.

"But after a year in the States, he will now understand his body better, understands how to train it better … there will be so many little one percenters he's picked up in New York.

"Over there, you can't take a second off. And he will have learned from that.

"Obviously Val still needs a few more weeks to find his feet.

"But I think he is going to better than ever before … a real superstar."

 

The Cowboys are set to reap the rewards of Holmes’ short-lived NFL stint. Picture: Dave Acree/NRL Photos
The Cowboys are set to reap the rewards of Holmes’ short-lived NFL stint. Picture: Dave Acree/NRL Photos

St George Illawarra assistant coach James Shepherd agrees.

Back in 2012 it was Shepherd, then employed as head of junior recruitment at Cronulla, who coaxed a teenage Holmes to the Shire.

Quizzed on his first memories of the Townsville tearaway, the now Dragons staffer will tell you: "His ability to find the tryline.

"Didn't matter who he was playing for, or what level of game it was, Val found the tryline.

"Some of the best tries I've ever seen in rugby league, he's scored them.

"And I have no doubt he will get back to where he was. The guy is a special talent."

Given he is only three games into his NRL return, Holmes is still some way from the player who, two years ago, tore up the NRL in spectacular fashion.

Yet undoubtedly, the signs are there.

For a start, when Holmes returned to training with the Cowboys, he weighed just 2kg above his old NRL playing weight.

Elsewhere, the Cowboys recruit has quickly regained his touch too, with his five try assists currently leading the NRL along with Newcastle No.7 Mitchell Pearce.

Asked about his client's return, manager Chris Orr says that not only is Holmes set to become a better player because of his NFL stint, but suggests the 24-year-old is pushing to usurp Kalyn Ponga in the Queensland No.1 jersey.

"After one season in the NFL, Val increased both his strength and speed," Orr says. "Apart from being an extremely talented human, he also really applies himself, does a lot of extras.

"So he's definitely got his sights set on that Origin spot. And I don't think it's outside his reach either."

 

Holmes (centre) has a return to Origin in his sights this season. Picture: AAP
Holmes (centre) has a return to Origin in his sights this season. Picture: AAP

Indeed, while Jarryd Hayne struggled significantly after his NFL stint, Holmes is quickly finding form at the back for North Queensland.

"So it really has been seamless from the time he walked through the front door," Parr insists.

"While there was all this talk around he Val would've bulked up in the NFL and done all this power training, we got a really fit athlete who was only a couple of kilos heavier than his last NRL game.

"And because he presented so well physically we were able to get stuck into the football side of things a lot earlier than anyone anticipated.

"Val's incredibly diligent around training too. And having spent the past year inside an NFL treatment, I can't imagine how that experience wouldn't help you."

So as for how Parr, who doubles as NSW Origin manager, feels about having his star recruit line up for Queensland come November?

"Oh, mate, I hope not," he laughs. "But you'd be a brave man to back against it."

Originally published as Untold impact of how Holmes split shattered Sharks



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