Debutant Holmes a positive for defeated Sharks
Rugby league fans were afforded a taste of the kid at the Auckland Nines but it has taken until Round 21 for Valentine Holmes to be handed his highly-anticipated NRL debut in one of few positives for the Cronulla Sharks following their 32-12 loss to the Eels on Saturday afternoon.
While his first start in the top grade was a loss, Holmes wasn't overawed by the bright lights of the NRL and it showed with his 190 metres, three line breaks and a handful of near-tries.
Sharks coach James Shepherd was surprised over the just-turned-19-year-old's performance considering he was only informed of his inclusion in the team on Friday morning.
"He is a good young player. I've seen him for a couple of years here now and he certainly can run the football," he said after the game.
"With limited preparation I thought he did really well to calm his nerves and contribute every time he was put in space; he was dangerous so it was a really positive start for him."
Shepherd said winger Sosaia Feki "probably could have played but we decided to give the young kid a go."
While Shepherd was unsure if Holmes would be utilised next weekend against the New Zealand Warriors, there was no uncertainty over Andrew Fifita's spot in the team following another barnstorming performance from the injury-plagued prop.
Fifita, who made 173 metres and 38 tackles against the Eels, with five offloads, seven eight breaks and a try assist, was another individual who Shepherd complimented following the game.
"Andrew was phenomenal last weekend and we have been working really hard on him to contribute defensively as well because offensively he has been phenomenal and he has been working really hard on areas we have asked him too," Shepherd said.
"To contribute the way he did, he's a great player, and the more footy he plays the better he'll get."
While Fifita and Holmes were excellent, the Sharks as a whole were not, falling to a 10-0 deficit after only 10 minutes of the game. Although the writing was on the wall for another loss they did their best to get back into it, according to the Sharks stand-in captain Wade Graham.
"We were behind the eight-ball a little bit and then I thought we dug our heels in a bit and forced our way back into the game," Graham said.
"Again I thought we started slow in the second half but I thought when we scored our try in the second half it felt like we were coming to get them.
"Then Hayne runs the length of the field after an error of ours and tied a bow on their win."
Shepherd noted the sloppy start, including not handling the opening kick-off and poor defence in the first 10 minutes.
"But I thought we recovered well after that and we really competed hard in that first half, and I thought the couple of missed opportunities in the last bit of the half to put some points on maybe eventually told a story.
"[Our fight back] was encouraging but you don't get any competition points for encouraging."