PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Valentine Holmes of the Sharks makes a break during the round 18 NRL match between the Panthers and the Sharks at Panthers Stadium on July 13, 2018 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Valentine Holmes will remain a Sharks player next season after coach Shane Flanagan officially killed off the winger’s prospects of an early release.

Cronulla were widely rumoured to be lining up a move for Ben Barba and speculation raged that his arrival would pave the way for Holmes to leave. Holmes is from Townsville and he is known to be keen on a move to North Queensland in order to be closer to his family.  But Flanagan has now nipped such talk in the bud by publicly declaring his intention to keep hold of Holmes and rubbishing talk of Barba rejoining the Sharks.

There’s less chance of me releasing Valentine Holmes out of his contract than there is of me playing for Australia at hooker during the end of the year Test matches,” said the Cronulla coach.

“We’d be crazy to let him go.”

It does not get much more emphatic than that. Instead Flanagan tipped Holmes to go on and overtake Andrew Ettingshausen as the club’s all-time record try-scorer. That sounds ambitious, but right now the youngster is on course to achieve precisely that, provided he can be convinced to remain at the Shire long-term.

Holmes has racked up 63 tries in just 99 games, a phenomenal return for such a young man. Ettingshausen managed 165 tries in 328 games, so Holmes enjoys a vastly superior scoring ratio and he could well overtake the great man.

Before looking for the best odds of the market make sure to read a  BetOnline review, in there you will see that Holmes is the clear favourite to finish the season as the top try scorer. He is priced at $1.57, while Josh Addo-Carr is out at $4. Holmes leads the way with 19 tries, while Addo-Carr is on 17 and the Rabbitohs’ Robert Jennings has also managed 17.

To think that huge doubts lingered over Holmes’ ability to convert from a winger into a full-back at the start of the season. He has answered his critics in the most unequivocal way possible, scoring 19 tries in 22 rounds to leave his peers trailing in his wake. His contract ends in 2020, but Flanagan hopes he will extend it and become a Cronulla great.

The Sharks are very much in the hunt for glory this season, assured of a top eight spot and behind only the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm in the Grand Final winner betting odds.

Meanwhile the Cowboys are rock bottom of the ladder after a dismal campaign, so the argument for him to remain where he is could be pretty compelling. However, the lure of being closer to his family remains strong.

“My mum and dad are up there and they are getting old and not working at the moment,” Holmes said.

“It would be good to see them now and then, let them get to games more often. They don’t really get to see my games. I would love to see them more.”

Yet the prospect of Barba returning to the Shire and allowing him an escape route now looks remote. Flanagan once said he would like the former Dally M winner to rejoin the Shark.

Barba was was forced out of the club two years ago after testing positive for cocaine, but he has since rebuilt his career in England and is now set on returning to Australia next year. Yet Flanagan has now dashed that idea.

“Benny was a fantastic player for us,” he said.

“He’ll always be remembered for what he did for us in 2016. It was a stellar season. But we have a salary cap. We’d like to see Valentine stay there long term.”

It looks like the Cowboys will have to look elsewhere for a superstar to drag them back to the summit of the game. Barba may find them knocking on his door before long.