Valentine at Holmes with Maroons
Just four months after being the subject of a game of international rugby league tug-o-war Sharks flyer Valentine Holmes has spoken out about his decision to declare his representative allegiances to Queensland and Australia.
Born in Townsville but with a Maori father, Holmes has been pulled towards either side of the Tasman over the past two years by representative selectors. In 2013 he played for the Queensland under-18s only to be named in the Junior Kiwis squad just months later and then in December that year was named in the Queensland under-20s Emerging Origin squad.
He represented the Queensland under-20s last season and then as the 2014 season drew to a close he was named in both the New Zealand Four Nations train-on squad and the Junior Kangaroos team to play the Junior Kiwis.
It was the double jeopardy that would finally force his hand but the 19-year-old told NRL.com that the lure of playing State of Origin for Queensland was too great to turn down.
"Origin means everything. When I was young, that was probably my No.1 thing to play, more than anything that was my dream. It means everything and that's probably why I chose Queensland over New Zealand," Holmes said from the Maroons' Emerging Origin camp last weekend.
"[It was a hard decision] because I got an offer from New Zealand as well but I just felt in my heart that it didn't feel right to be a part of that New Zealand squad. I felt right to be here, in Queensland, in Queensland colours.
"[My parents] wanted me here as well."
In a disastrous year for the club the emergence of Holmes in 2014 was a beacon of bright light for Sharks fans looking longingly at better days ahead.
Enticed away from Townsville and the grip of the Cowboys by the Sharks in 2013, Holmes signed an extended deal following his NRL debut in Round 21 last season that will keep him at the club until at least the end of the 2017 season.
In six top-grade games on the wing last year Holmes caught the eye with his speed and skill, having a hand in both his side's two tries in his debut game against the Eels.
He went on to score three himself over the final five weeks of the season and although he is yet to taste the sweetness of an NRL victory said he feels more comfortable in elite company heading into 2015.
"I feel a lot more confident now, especially at training," said Holmes, who nominated fullback as his preferred position. "At training now all the boys are back so we've got one good group. Training's going really well and I'm feeling heaps more confident than last year so hopefully I'll have a good year this year.
"Because I'm still young I'm not going to just push myself in and kick (Sharks fullback) Michael Gordon out of a spot but [coach Shane Flanagan] does want me to put myself in and tell Michael Gordon to jump out and let me jump in sometimes and I'm starting to get used to it now. I've just got to work my way up, I'm still young."
The arrival of boyhood idol Ben Barba to the club adds to the surreal nature of each training session for Holmes who still has a collection of footy cards of players he now calls teammates.
"I always think to myself every day it's like a dream come true, just to train with them and talk to them every day," Holmes said.
"I've still got old footy cards from when I was younger that I used to collect. I've got cards of Luke Lewis, it's just weird, but to be training with them all is awesome.
"There's a totally different vibe to last year. Everyone is happier, everyone's training hard, the coaching staff is back and we've got a whole new coaching staff from last year with the trainers and that and they're training us really well. It's tough, but it's good, it's like a totally new club."