Holmes' NFL release request put club in no-win situation

The risk is virtually all Cronulla’s but they were placed in a no-win situation when Valentine Holmes told them he was leaving for a shot at NFL.

In contrast, Holmes can’t really lose as it was widely believed he had already decided to leave the Sharks for North Queensland in 2020 and is still expected to have that option if his American dream doesn’t work out for next year.

The 23-year-old Test and Origin star will need to train for little or no pay in the United States for up to six months while hoping to convince an NFL franchise he was worth a chance for the 2019 season beginning next September.

However, a condition of his release from the remaining year of his contract with Cronulla is Holmes can only play for the Sharks if he is unsuccessful in the NFL and wants to come back to the NRL next season.

To accommodate the possible return of Holmes, the Sharks will need to leave room in their salary cap for him and his value is such the club confirmed he had been offered a five-year deal that would have made him the highest-paid player in Cronulla’s history.

The clause ensures Holmes is unable to join the Cowboys next season, as some suspected he may have been intending to do if he fails to land an NFL deal but also casts doubt about the Sharks' ability to replace him.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has two former representative fullbacks in Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan on his roster who can take over the No.1 jersey.

Sharks officials had been waiting for Holmes to return from a holiday in the US and Cuba to discuss his future at the club but privately it is believed they were all but resigned to him leaving – just not now, and not for the NFL.

While Holmes never confirmed he was headed to the Cowboys, it was obvious to anyone who talked to him in the Kangaroos camp in Auckland last month for the Tests against New Zealand and Tonga that North Queensland was where his heart lay.

"I was born there and I know what it’s like," he said during an interview in Auckland. "It’s not like I’m moving to a foreign place, if I were to move back."

Holmes even flew to Townsville the morning after Australia’s loss to the Kiwis to attend the wedding of Cowboys playmaker and Queensland Origin teammate Michael Morgan, whose wife is the sister of his partner Natalia O'Toole. He returned to the Australian camp the following night.

Much has been made about Holmes wanting to move to Townsville for family reasons, but he also indicated that setting himself and his family up financially was a consideration and he has the ability to do that if he can succeed in NFL.

"I’ve got family back home, my partner has family back home and she is getting a bit homesick but then you’ve got to look after yourselves, money-wise and that," he said.

"It is obviously a massive decision for myself and my family and for my future, so there is a lot to think about and I don’t want to rush into it and make the wrong decision."

Yet if Holmes had been intending to quit Cronulla to move anywhere other than Townsville, he never let on and the Sharks believed he was holidaying in the United States, where O’Toole ran the New York Marathon, before the couple headed to Cuba for two weeks.

After Holmes and Cowboys superstar Jason Taumalolo had undergone training and testing with NFL scouts in 2016, the NRL banned players from doing so as it was felt they were promoting a rival code.

Cronulla officials were blindsided when Holmes returned home on Monday and made it known he wanted an immediate release to have a try at NFL.

While in the US, he spent time at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon with Western Bulldogs AFL players Marcus Bontempelli and Josh Dunkley, and underwent strength and speed testing with a view to entering the NFL's international player pathway program.

He also met representatives of a major NFL franchise about his prospects in the code.

As Jarryd Hayne did when he quit Parramatta four years ago, Holmes will move to the United States to train in the hope of getting an NFL deal.

He is expected to train at the IMG Academy in Florida where former South Sydney forward Jordan Mailata prepared for this year's NFL draft, where Philadelphia Eagles chose him as pick 233 in the seventh round.

Holmes and Mailata are both managed by Chris and Gavin Orr of Pacific Sports Management.

The 2019 NFL Combine is held from February 26 to March 4, before the NFL Draft on April 26 and 27 and after that players can be signed to trial contracts.

Hayne got his opportunity with the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, comprising 90 players, and survived the cull to the 53-man playing team before making eight NFL appearances in the 2015 season.

Holmes is three years younger than Hayne, which is why it makes sense for him to have a shot at NFL now, but there are obvious comparisons between the pair as both play fullback or wing at NRL and representative level.

Like Hayne, Holmes is most likely to be considered as a running back in NFL but he also has the size and speed for a wide-receiver or a kick or punt returner.

Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes.
Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

As Hayne discovered, learning the detailed NFL playbook is likely to be the biggest factor in determining whether Holmes is able to establish a new career or he returns to the NRL next season or in 2020.

Despite making a "lifetime" commitment to Parramatta as a condition of his release in 2014, Hayne joined the Gold Coast Titans when he returned midway through the 2016 season as the Eels had no room in their salary cap to accommodate him.

Holmes will play for Cronulla if he returns next season or not at all but beyond that, the way is clear for him to join the Cowboys in 2020 if his NFL ambition falls short.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.