Senior Sharks push for Holmes debut
Stand-in Sharks skipper Wade Graham has revealed he and club captain Paul Gallen have sat down with coach James Shepherd to discuss the possibility of blooding 19-year-old hotshot Valentine Holmes before the end of the season.
With Cronulla no chance of qualifying for this year's Finals Series the focus for the club now turns to avoiding the wooden spoon and its future generation for the final six games of the season.
And at the top of the list includes the 19-year-old whiz-kid who pushed Raiders dynamo Anthony Milford into the halves for Queensland's Under-20s Origin game earlier this year.
Speaking after the Sharks' shock 18-16 victory over Penrith in Bathurst on Saturday afternoon, Graham said it's a matter of time before Holmes will get a crack in the NRL.
"Yeah we've discussed it. Me and 'Gal' have discussed it [with Shepherd]. It's a matter of timing with him. He's going to play," Graham told NRL.com.
"It's hard at the moment for him because obviously we've got 'Flash' (Michael Gordon) out the back and now we've got 'Gages' (Jacob Gagan) and 'Feks' (Sosaia Feki) on the wing.
"That's Val's position. He's a fullback/wing. No doubt he's going to get a run eventually. It'd be nice to get him a few games this year just to give him a taste. It's just a matter of managing it. Hopefully we can get him in at the right time."
Cronulla's graduating class of 2014 already includes of a raft of promising talents including Gagan, hooker Michael Lichaa, playmaker Penani Manumalealii, as well as middle men Pat Politoni, David Fifita and Tupou Sopoaga.
But it's Holmes who the club certainly has a high opinion of, particularly after his eye-catching cameos for the Shiremen in the Auckland Nines back in February that got him a contract extension until the end of 2015.
Having dominated the Holden Cup for most of the year, the Townsville product was rewarded with a Maroons under-20s jumper earlier this year. And now Graham believes Holmes, who turned 19 last week, is beyond the under-age competition.
"I've been watching him play in the 20s and he's had an enormous season for them," he said.
"He's almost at that stage where he's not going to learn too much more playing in the 20s. He's got to play with us to take that next step. It's not a matter of if he's ever going to play, it's just a matter of when we can manage that with him and get him in, because he's going to be a star."
Graham said the final six weeks of the competition will be an invaluable experience for the team's plethora of youngsters.
"Everything that happens from now until the end of the season is going to be a lesson for the boys," he said.
"And they've got to learn from it, get better from it. When those quality days do come, it's because we've been through these hard times."
The 23-year-old also praised the club's decision to hand Shepherd the final seven games of the year as head coach, describing the appointment as "common sense".
"It was the best thing to happen for the situation. If you bring another coach in, there's obviously disruptions of him coming in," he said.
"Shep's been there with us all year so he knows our systems and what the players are like. It was such a tricky situation whichever way it went.
"I don't know if there would've been too many winners if you went the other way. It was the common sense way. Just leave it how it is. We'll chew down on it and then obviously 'Flanno' (Shane Flanagan) is coming back in the pre-season."