Wade Graham described Valentine Holmes's move to try to make it in the NFL as "bittersweet" in one respect but added he had nothing but respect for his Sharks teammate for having the courage to chase his dreams.
The Sharks released Holmes from the final year of his contract on Tuesday so he could pursue a shot at making it in the NFL, likely as a running back or kick returner.
Graham was in Brisbane for the launch of the NRL’s 2019 Magic Round and the Cronulla co-captain had answered questions in one-on-one interviews with reporters on Holmes before the Sharks had announced the fullback's release.
As most of his comments had been made redundant by the breaking news, Graham agreed to do an all-in interview to address the latest development.
"It is bittersweet because he is coming off a season where he was our best player by a long way and has been an integral part of our success over the last few years, so from a club and teammate’s perspective he is going to be a big hole to fill," Graham said.
"On a friendship level, with the challenge he has accepted to go and try his hand at NFL, we wish him all the best.
"Physically he has all the attributes to be successful in any sporting arena he chooses to play in. The biggest question mark is how he grasps the game and whether he can make it to the necessary level to play in the NFL."
Graham backs Holmes to chase NFL dream
Holmes attended NFL trials in Los Angeles with Jason Taumalolo two years ago and recently visited Nike headquarters in Oregon to undergo further testing.
Graham suggested there "must be strong interest" from the US but it is the preparedness of Holmes to risk it all when in the prime of his rugby league career as a Test and Origin representative that has earned the respect of his peers.
"He is coming into what would have been his biggest deal when he was coming off contract with us, and obviously there is interest from North Queensland. Val is the type of player who would have had 15 other clubs interested in his services," Graham said.
"You can’t help but respect someone who will get out of their comfort zone and turn their back on a really lucrative deal to take on such a challenge. As a friend I am excited to watch his journey and see what he can make of it."
Holmes’s former Sharks teammate James Maloney echoed those sentiments.
"I think it is a real ballsy call," Maloney told NRL.com, when asked before the Sharks release came through what he thought of a possible Holmes switch to NFL.
"[Jarryd] Hayne walked away from $1 million a season to go over there and have a crack and I think that is the biggest call anyone makes, when you are turning away a big contract on a wing and a prayer that you can make it.
All of Valentine Holmes' tries from 2018
"If Val does go I will be cheering for him and hoping he makes it."
Holmes sent Graham a text, along with his teammates, about his plans while the injured forward was conducting media duties in Brisbane.
Graham said the saga had unfolded so quickly that Holmes, who had recently been holiday in in Cuba and the US, had no time to discuss his plans with teammates before his code switch became public.
As for how the Sharks will replace their 2018 player of the year, Graham said that was yet to be decided.
"This has all happened so fast. We were looking at the challenge of filling that void at the end of next season if he was to move on,” Graham said.
"There will be time now to sit back and make some plans but off the top of my head we have got Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan in the squad who have both played at an international level in the fullback spot.
Physically he has all the attributes to be successful in any sporting arena.Wade Graham
"The beauty about rugby league is that the next exciting prospect is only around the corner so the next Valentine Holmes could be in our system already and we are just waiting to give him an opportunity."
On a lighter note, Graham hinted that if Holmes does make it in the NFL he might make his NFL Fantasy selections a bit easier.
"We are in NFL Fantasy with Val and a few boys at the club so come next year we might be drafting him into our team," Graham grinned.
"That would be funny."