Despite the Cronulla Sharks signing a number of high-profile fullbacks, Kuki Valentine Holmes is likely to get the first shot at the number one jersey in this weekend’s trial against the Manly Sea Eagles.
High-profile custodians Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan were signed after the club lacked firepower following the departure of Ben Barba, putting the spotlight on Holmes.
Although he has thrived for both Queensland and the Kangaroos on the flank, coach Shane Flanagan has said that Holmes will start the season at the back.
“Val’s got the fullback spot to start (the season) – that’s the only thing he’s been guaranteed of,” Flanagan told NRL.com.
“He’s got to perform and there’s going to be pressure on everyone in that regard. Obviously, we want him to stay here long-term.
“He’s got another 10 years in the game and hopefully it’s with our club. But he’s signed until 2020 and I’m looking forward to him developing over that time.”
Flanagan pointed out that Holmes was only 22 years old and was still developing, which can be forgotten thanks to his two-million-dollar, multi-year deal that will end in 2020.
“We just need to let Val evolve and develop as a footballer. We know what sort of player he can be on the wing and he’s a quality winger, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lesser fullback either by any means.
“Time will tell with how he evolves. You look at some of the other fullbacks, a guy like Darius Boyd and even Darren Lockyer to a degree, they got better as time went on and I think Val will as well.”
With a ball-playing fullback increasingly important in the modern game, Holmes’ five try assists last season don’t stack up against Barba’s a year previous, when the latter laid on 21 tries en route to the Sharks’ maiden title.
But the youngster did hit the ground running in key defensive facets of the fullback’s game last year, racking up 1470 kick return metres to top the league.
Holmes also fielded 88 per cent of kicks to him according to NRL.com Stats, an impressive figure that equalled Darius Boyd’s proficiency, and trumped fellow representative No.1s James Tedesco (50%), Billy Slater (71%) and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (74%).
Flanagan attributed Holmes’ strong figures to his front line’s ability to pressure opposition kickers, but also lauded his fullback’s defensive improvement.
“He’s a very brave fullback who will bring the ball back at 100 miles an hour,” Flanagan said.
“But there’s the other side of things, defensively organising the team – Val’s still learning that.
“Communicating what he wants in different circumstances – it’s not natural for Val to be pushing teammates around like that, but he’s learning that and it’s the biggest development we’re seeing from him.
“Duges (Dugan) will do it his way, Matty Moylan will do it his way if he’s playing fullback, and Val has to find his own way of doing it and he’s slowly getting that.”
Cronulla will name their side for Saturday’s trial against Manly on Saturday night after a training scrimmage against Wigan Warriors on Wednesday.
Holmes is one of the few big names expected to be named alongside Moylan, who will make his Sharks debut in the number six jumper, while the likes of Josh Dugan, Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis will be kept on ice until next week’s clash with Wests Tigers.