SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Josh Dugan of the Sharks smiles during a Cronulla Sharks NRL training session at Southern Cross Group Stadium on September 18, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

48 hours can be a long time in rugby league. Even 24 hours can completely re-shape a teams fortunes.

Be it an injury, a moment of madness off the field, or a signing, one event can drastically change the trajectory of a side’s season.

That is exactly what the Sharks are now facing having released their megastar fullback Valentine Holmes to follow his NFL dream in the United States.

Not only have the Sharks lost their most electric back, but they’ve also lost their most marketable athlete. Holmes was literally front and centre of membership drives and his name appeared on the back of more jerseys than any other.

The timing of his departure means that Ben Barba is no longer available, while the large majority of NRL talent has been tucked away for 2019.

The Sharks now have a war chest of sorts to attract any unhappy, off-contract players, but that may be no use to them with pre-season training already underway for the majority of teams.

We take a look at the players most likely to replace Valentine Holmes come round one in 2019.

Josh Dugan

The most obvious choice would be shifting the former Blues and Kangaroos number one back to his preferred position. Dugan has played the majority of his career in the custodian role and has played at the highest level in the number one.

Obviously there are injury concerns. The Sharks thought their medical team could look after Dugan and tailor his training in a way that he could stay injury free, but unfortunately they were unable.

There were even rumours of the Sharks shopping one of their marquee men around. I don’t believe these to be true, but there were talks.

A move back to number one could reignite the former rep mainstay’s career. He developed a passing game during his time at the back for the Sharks in early 2018 that we hadn’t seen before.

His positioning is top class, he’s arguably the most destructive fullback in terms of making metres off kick returns, and he is experienced enough to marshal those in front of him.

If he stays fit, and can work on his ball playing just a little bit more, Dugan is the obvious short-term solution.

That said, the stocks in the centres in the Shire are thin. Dugan and Josh Morris are the only two recognised centres with Kurt Capewell and Bronson Xerri the back ups.

Capewell will be required to play a lot of second row while Xerri is more likely to make his NRL debut on the wing.

I’m not sure the Sharks can afford to shift their strike centre.

Matt Moylan

The other obvious choice is former fullback Matt Moylan. Moylan set the competition alight from the custodian role for the Panthers, delivering team-high try assists.

He looks out of sorts when he returned to the role for the Sharks having spent the entire off-season transforming his game to suit a shift into the halves.

The emergence of Kyle Flanagan may be in play here. Flanno Jr may shift to five-eighth (or halfback, with Chad making the switch) with Moylan playing in a ball playing number one role.

With Shaun Johnson off contract, a potential spine of Moylan, Johnson, Townsend and Blayke Brailey has Sharks fans excited across social media.

Moylan’s shift to five-eighth was a success. He was the Sharks main focus in attack. Do the Sharks really have the ability to completely flip their game plan to suit a rookie number seven?

Will Kennedy

Some readers may not have even heard of Will Kennedy, but he was the first choice fullback for the Sharks feeder team, the Newtown Jets.

He has a stand out season and helped steer the side to the NSW Cup decider.

He has the ball playing skills and speed to make the step up but size is a genuine concern here. He was often left laying after a big hit while playing for the Jets.

It’s very possible that Flanagan opts for the least disruptive move, which would be to elevate the Jets flyer. That said, it’s a huge risk to entrust a huge part of the game plan to someone without an NRL game to their name.

Sione Katoa

A left field option is spending the off-season moving the whippet winger to the number one role.

Katoa shone in the trials, then played well in the top grade for the Sharks following a long injury lay off.

He was constantly the Jets number one attacking threat and made breaks almost at will when he was shifted into the fullback role in attack.

Having spent more than a few afternoons at Henson Park, you could literally hear the fans begging for the ball to find Katoa’s possession when a try was needed.

Again, it’s a big ask, and he would have to develop ball playing skills in one off-season. Huge ask.

Alex Johnston

The Sharks have been linked to South Sydney number one Alex Johnston almost all off-season.

Talk was they would look to sign the Rabbits fullback if Holmes signed away and Ben Barba couldn’t be swayed back to the Shire, but for 2020.

There’s a good chance that the Sharks made a phone call, if they haven’t already.

Johnston has shown plenty of attacking flair and had a good season at the back for the Bunnies, but his game does not suit the “Ben Barba” fullback role that the Sharks model their game plan on.

It took the Sharks literally months to find their feet after realizing Barba would not be there to provide try assists when the halves couldn’t.

It’s a strong possibility that he will make the switch, but the Sharks will have to accept that his game is far different from either Barba or Holmes.

Comments are closed.