If anyone needed any further proof that Valentine Holmes is among the game’s elite players, you only needed to watch Cronulla’s heart-stopping one-point win over Penrith.
Everyone knows about the obvious. His skill, his speed, his explosiveness. His ability to change a game single-handedly.
Holmes crossed for his 22nd try of the season in the first half to help Cronulla out to an 18-2 lead. By half-time, you would have forgiven Sharks fans for having one eye on Melbourne and dreaming of a second premiership in three years.
But nine minutes into the second half Holmes made an error in judgement that completely changed the context of the game. It gave Penrith a sniff, some encouragement.
Tyrone Peachey put a fairly routine grubber kick into Cronulla’s in-goal area. Holmes had a shout from Sharks winger Sosaia Feki that he had time. He was almost pleading for the ball to bobble dead.
But Nathan Cleary showed the sort of effort that has seen him earn the NSW No.7 jersey. He chased the lost cause. And somehow sneaked up behind Holmes to slide in and touch the ball down centimetres from the dead-ball line.
It swung the game. Penrith began their comeback. And two more tries within two minutes of each other had the Panthers level with 13 minutes remaining.
Most players would have allowed that earlier mistake to dent their confidence. A normal person might go into their shell.
Not Holmes. He took it upon himself to roll the dice. To put himself on the line. To take a chance he felt needed to be taken to get Cronulla back on the front foot.
Without telling anyone, Holmes gambled with a short kick-off. He rolled the ball along the ground, just barely going the required 10 metres. He raced through himself and gathered the loose ball.
What if it had gone wrong? What if? Penrith would have had the ball 60m from Cronulla’s line. They could have even had a penalty on halfway.
But the truly great players don’t think of the negative consequences.
It gave Cronulla back some momentum. The Sharks got into position for their first field goal attempt which was charged down. Chad Townsend would eventually get a second crack with five and a half minutes to play. He made no mistake.
It was the final proof of how special a player Holmes really is. At just 23-years-old, he doesn’t just have the physical attributes to be one of the NRL’s elite players. But also the mental strength, the ability to read a game, sense an opportunity and the courage to back himself.
“I was talking to Feks after, he was calling time. I had time. I didn’t really see Nathan coming. I probably should have looked over my shoulder first and just hit it out. Who knows what could have happened if I’d hit it out. Drop kick, they probably would have scored anyway,” Holmes said.
“I was obviously pretty down about that. You can’t give a team like that easy points otherwise they’re going to hurt you. I did that. Lucky enough Chaddy has been working on his field goals at training and he iced that one for us.
“I didn’t tell anyone [about the short kick-off]. I felt like if I just kicked it off to them they had a good roll on. It was a time where we needed the ball back at the time. I saw the front two were pretty wide apart so I backed myself and lucky enough it came off.”
It was only a few weeks ago that Sharks coach Shane Flanagan joked that he would sell the top floor of the leagues club to keep Holmes in the shire.
And while North Queensland are desperate to lure Holmes to Townsville for the 2020 season, surely Cronulla must do everything in their power to keep Holmes, a potentially once in a generation player, in the black, white and blue.
“I know what I was thinking. I wanted to run down there and if he was my son give him a flick around the ears,” Flanagan quipped when asked about Holmes’ error.
“But he’s got to back himself. Val is one of those players that backs himself. He tried to kick it out too late. He’s scored [22 tries] this year, he’s let one in tonight which wasn’t great but he came up with a really big play from the kick-off.
“Didn’t tell anyone about it and just kicked it off and got possession for us. I think that might have led to the field goal. That’s the type of player Val is.”