VALENTINE Holmes usually runs round in sky blue earning a crust for Cronulla.
Turns out Paul Gallen, that scourge of the Sunshine State, played a deft hand in keeping him in maroon.
Holmes last ran onto Suncorp Stadium in 2013 in an under 18s Origin curtain raiser for Queensland, but a year later was almost lured across the ditch and into black and white by Stephen Kearney.
This week in Golden Point, the history behind the Munster-Holmes rivalry, the punted skipper back in his club’s good books and an 18-year-old Bunny tipping the scales at 150 kegs.
A reasonable eligibility stink ensued in late 2014 when the Junior Kangaroos named him for a train on squad one day, and the next New Zealand did the same with their own Four Nations travelling party.
Holmes’ phone lit up like Shane Warne was on shore leave, and two years of to-ing and fro-ing as a result of his Maori father’s heritage came to a head.
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“I wasn’t coming off the best year actually in 2014, I wasn’t happy with my form so it was all a bit surprising to be talking rep footy,” Holmes recalls of his debut NRL season, when Cronulla slumped to a wretched wooden spoon.
“At the end of the year I was named in the under 20s Junior Kangaroos and the next day the Kiwis named me too.
“So there was a push from both sides and Stephen Kearney rang me. He said he was interested and he could see me playing for the Kiwis in a few years.
“But I was raised in Townsville and played my junior footy in Townsville.
“It wasn’t an easy decision at all, so I rang Gal and he said ‘just follow your heart and do whatever you think is right, what feels right.’
“‘People will try and make you go to New Zealand or Australia but you’ve got to go with what your heart says’.”
Ben Ikin and Nathan Ryan reveal the target areas and identify the strengths each Origin side should exploit ahead of Wednesday’s decider.
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Gallen remains a trusted sounding board for his young Sharks teammate, and has previous history wading into rugby league’s murky eligibility stoushes.
He and Ricky Stuart famously convinced James ‘Aussie Jim’ Tamou to commit to the Blues and Kangaroos in 2012, despite his thick Kiwi accent, NZ passport and upbringing in Palmerston North.
But rarely has the long-time NSW leader found himself on the same side of the Origin fence as Queensland patriarch Mal Meninga.
The message from Mal was the same as Gal’s, and now three years on, Holmes is pushing for yet another Queensland win over Gallen’s own beloved Blues.
“Mal called me up at one point too, when he was Queensland coach and he told me the same thing as Kearney, that he could see me playing Origin sometime in the future,” Holmes says.
“After talking to those guys — and getting a call from Mal, that was huge for me — that’s how I approached it, going with what felt right and genuine.
“I spoke to mum and dad and they both said the same thing, and I felt like I didn’t really know the Kiwi culture. I didn’t know the story behind the haka or things like that.
“Growing up and playing I’d always dreamt of playing for Queensland and that’s what felt right in the end, that’s what I ended up choosing.
“I’ve always felt like a Queenslander.”
Bad blood’s done, but fires still burn
Still with Holmes, any bad blood between he and fellow Maroons wunderkind Cam Munster has been washed away now that six of the eight players banned out of last year’s Emerging camp fiasco have graduated to senior Origin honours.
The beef reported between Holmes and Munster last year was genuine, with the Storm star filthy he was the only other player initially fingered for breaking curfew when Holmes was arrested for public nuisance in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.
“I think he was a bit upset about it when that came up, he would’ve been watching the series like we all were thinking he could’ve been there,” Holmes said of the headlines Munster generated during grand final week.
Both young tyros are now considering their 12-month bans a blessing in disguise, and join game three rookie Ben Hunt, Jarrod Wallace, Dylan Napa and Anthony Milford in moving beyond the scandal and into the Maroons fold.
But that’s not to say Munster and Holmes aren’t still competitive as all hell, or won’t be in the future as they appear set to duel for spots in Queensland backlines for the next decade.
Coming through the ranks, the pair found themselves competing for the same positions in under 20s state sides.
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Parramatta surprise packet Clint Gutherson would join the mix when it came to Junior Kangaroos sides, usually relegating the younger Holmes to the wing.
But the Sharks speedster had the last laugh after the 2016 grand final, pipping Munster for an outside back berth at the Four Nations.
Back in the good books
Jesse Bromwich has been restored to a leadership role on the quiet at the Storm, a couple of months after being stripped of the New Zealand captaincy over the Anzac Test cocaine scandal.
Bromwich has not named as Melbourne’s skipper on their website or in the Big League program when Cameron Smith has been away on recent Origin duties, but has led in his absence against the Cowboys, Roosters and Eels over the past month.
Earlier this year Bromwich was hit with a two-game NRL suspension, stood down from the club’s leadership group and banned from the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign after he and Kevin Proctor were caught allegedly snorting cocaine off a dealers phone outside a Canberra nightclub, less than twelve hours after being trounced by the Kangaroos.
Coach Craig Bellamy insisted just weeks after that incident that “if I was picking the next captain if Cameron Smith retired tomorrow I’d be picking Jesse Bromwich,” backing the big Kiwi’s previously pristine off-field behaviour.
Biggest Bunny of them all
The Burgess boys and Russell Crowe can quite literally, eat their hearts out.
We’ve found the biggest Bunny of them all — 200 centimetre, 150-kilo 18-year-old prop Jordan Mailata.
The Bankstown Bulls junior, who only turned 18 last week, is impossible to miss in red and green since moving across from the Bulldogs’ system, and fittingly answers to ‘The Giant’.
The kid is coming off the bench for the Bunnies in the under 20s and is most certainly an impact player, with limited minutes at this stage in his career.
But his recent starts in the NYC are reward for the 10 kilos he’s dropped since arriving at Redfern at the start of the year, and he marked his birthday last week with a well-earned meat pie against the Roosters.