Valentine Holmes says he is now feeling the love at Cronulla ahead of one of the biggest decisions of his career so far – to stay in the shire or return to Townsville.
Holmes is off contract at the end of next season with North Queensland interested in taking the 23-year-old back home.
But Cronulla are prepared to fight for their star No.1.
Coach Shane Flanagan said last month the club would sell one floor of the leagues club to keep Holmes, with the Sharks offering the most lucrative extension in their history to keep him in the black, white and blue.
Flanagan has also said there is no chance of the Sharks releasing Holmes, widely regarded as one of the NRL’s next superstars, from his contract early. The Cowboys would be able to table Holmes a formal offer from November 1.
During a State of Origin camp with Queensland earlier in the year, Holmes candidly said he wasn’t sure if Flanagan wanted to keep him at Cronulla.
But that attitude appears to have changed drastically with Holmes fighting off Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan to play fullback for Cronulla as he has exploded to become arguably the form player of the competition in the last month.
“It obviously makes it harder,” Holmes said when asked about Flanagan’s recent comments.
“He’d obviously do what any coach would do to keep their players all together. I’ve pretty much played under Flano since being at the Sharks. He’s obviously seen how I’ve grown up. He probably sees a bit more in me that he wants to keep teaching me about.
“It’s going to be a hard decision.
“I’ve always felt [loved]. I’m pretty much a junior here. They’ve obviously done a lot for me. Playing me as a young boy. I’ve always had the love for Sharks and I’m sure they’re the same.”
Contract talks have been put on hold until the end of the season.
Holmes also played down his chances of wearing the green and gold No.1 jersey come the end of the year despite his stellar campaign where he broke Cronulla’s all-time record for most tries in a season.
Instead, his immediate focus is on helping Cronulla advance to week three of the NRL finals.
The Sharks take on Penrith at Allianz Stadium on Friday night in an elimination semi-final under pressure to avoid going out with straight-sets losses. But they will need to do it without star back-rower Wade Graham, ruled out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The focus last week was on the individual battle between Holmes and Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco. This week, it will be on Matt Moylan and James Maloney, two five-eighths swapped between their clubs during the off-season.
The question over who got the better deal has raged for most of the year, with pressure on both players to help deliver a preliminary final appearance against Melbourne.
“Every time we’ve played Penrith it’s always been a tough one and especially now that they’ve done the swap. It’s always been pretty much about those two and whose a better half out of them,” Holmes said.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m pretty sure [Moylan] is obviously pretty keen to play against his old team and his old teammates. It’s going to be a good one.”