On the back of three straight wins the Cronulla Sharks are suddenly in the conversation to record a second premiership win in three seasons.
Behind a dominant pack lead by Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Aaron Woods and Paul Gallen, the Sharks halves are finding space to set their outside backs free.
The most exciting and dangerous of those outside backs is the Sharks number one in Valentine Holmes.
The Sharks custodian became the first player in club history to register 20 tries in a season with his ankle breaking effort in his side’s big win over the Knights on Sunday afternoon.
The pace in which he hit that line, you knew no one would stop him. He left a number of Knights fans in the lurch and turned defenders inside out before touching down under the posts.
The Maroons and Kangaroos winger has delivered on the promise that at one time made him the game’s most exciting young player. His 2016 year was as close to perfect as you could possibly get, but I’d argue that Val’s 2018 is even better.
He currently sits just one try off the top of the try scoring tally despite playing the majority of the season as fullback.
With all due respect to the likes of David Fusitu’a and Josh Addo Carr, the amount of tries they catch and run in add up, whereas Holmes has scored the majority of his tries from the middle.
Right now I’m willing to pronounce Holmes as the form player of the competition.
There is no better running fullback in the game. Billy Slater and Kalyn Ponga included. Although those two players have superior ball playing skills, Holmes’ ability to create numbers and lay on tries has vastly improved in 2018.
Working with the likes of Josh Dugan and Matthew Moylan has taken his game to the next level. He’s probably the favourite to take over from Billy Slater for the Kangaroos at the end of the season. His abilities at wing may see him shifted for either Ponga or James Tedesco, but on form he’s the man.
Holmes is certainly the best fullback the Sharks have had since, well … 2016.
Ben Barba had arguably the most destructive season produced by a fullback in recent history. With all due respect to Slater, who is the best fullback I’ve ever seen play the game, Barba’s 2016 was special.
He had 15 tries and 18 try assists before the finals even kicked off. We all remember his Grand Final try and the efforts he produced in severe pain against the Cowboys to held guide his side to the big dance.
His silky smooth ball movement made the Cronulla left edge almost as dangerous as their all-Origin right edge. Simply put he was untouchable at times and could claim to have won the Sharks at least four games with minimal thought put into that statement.
Perhaps only Barba himself in 2012 produced a better season than his 2016 efforts.
Although Barba’s off field mistakes brought his time at the Sharks to an end, there is a very chance that the Premiership winning number one may be back in the Shire in 2019.
Having been granted a release from his current Super League contract, Barba is headed home in 2019 and would surely be looking to link up with his old side. The side he took to a history shattering title in 2016.
He is going to walk into Man Of Steel contention. He has been so dominant that he could have stopped playing well over a month ago yet still take out the ESL’s top award.
Barba is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition and given his history at the club would surely walk back into the number one spot at the Sharks, right?
The Sharks are in a real fight to hold onto their prized number one. Any suggestion that Holmes would be shifted to accommodate Barba’s return would all but deliver Val to the Cowboys.
That said, can the Sharks sit back and allow Barba to sign elsewhere then lose out on Holmes as well?
That is a mammoth call the club soon have to make.
I don’t know for sure the Sharks are interested in Barba. He does come with injury concerns and we all know of his off-field record. Without going into it, you don’t sign Barba without considerable risk.
Holmes on the other hand is a far more trustworthy presence. He’s far from a saint and has had his issues but no more than any teenager out celebrating a big achievement.
Val can start negotiating, officially, with other clubs come November 1st. The Sharks would surely need his signature on a monsterous, long-term contract before then to avoid the nerves.
Holmes is a Townsville boy and with Johnathan Thurston retiring the club will surely spare no expense in trying to secure their next superstar.
The Sharks will be able to table a very large offer but it is by no means a done deal. They will surely move heaven and earth to secure a player who could potentially become the competition’s best.
Then again it may not be enough.
Do they push Holmes for a decision knowing that they can sign Barba, shift Val to the wing in 2019 and potentially send him off to Townsville with another premiership ring?
Or do they sit back, potentially let Barba sign elsewhere, and put all their eggs in the Holmes basket?
Right now there probably isn’t a fullback in the competition the Sharks would take over their number one. Ponga, Teddy and Turbo are magic footballers but Holmes is a Sharks legend.
That said, he’s potentially a Sharks legend who may have already decided to leave the club at the end of 2019.
This is a massive call that could shape the Sharks future.
Do they risk alienating Holmes to secure Barba? Do they risk a 2020 season without either player?
With Dugan, William Kennedy and Sione Katoa on the books I don’t think there is a terrible option here regardless of how this plays out, but surely it’s all aboard the Holmes train in the Shire now.