NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Football Stadium. Valentine Holmes. Picture: Alix Sweeney
NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Football Stadium. Valentine Holmes. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Holmes opens up on dark days after NFL switch

Valentine Holmes has opened up about the dark days he experienced during his NFL switch, revealing loneliness and a lack of camaraderie in New York prompted his return to the NRL.

Holmes will pull on a North Queensland Cowboys jersey in 2020 after inking a six-year contract to resurrect his NRL career in Townsville.

The 24-year-old shocked the rugby league world in November, 2018, when he quit the Cronulla Sharks to pursue a career in American football.

 

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Holmes was one of the NRL's rising stars, a try-scoring sensation for the Queensland State of Origin team, Kangaroos representative and premiership-winner at Cronulla.

On the brink of becoming a $1 million-a-season player, Holmes risked it all to chase a dream of playing in the NFL, trialling for a number of franchises before securing a $100,000 contract with the New York Jets.

Apart from a few trial games, Holmes spent a year in the Jets' practice squad before deciding to return to his home town in north Queensland.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail, Holmes said he endured dark days in the Big Apple and craved a return to the NRL.

"There wasn't a particular moment where I wanted to come home straight away - it was a mixture of things," he said.

"The main thing was it was getting to me that I couldn't play for the next two years, it sucked hearing that.

"My wife (Natalia) left when I was still there, she had to come back for work commitments. I was over there by myself for about a month and that took a toll on me.

"It was hard to be over there, slogging away then coming back to your apartment by yourself.

"It was a difficult situation to be in by myself. I didn't know many people or have a car. I had to catch Ubers everywhere, to training, to go shopping. It all takes a toll on you."

Holmes cut a different path to that of NFL trailblazer Jarryd Hayne, who quit the NRL in 2014 and played eight NFL games for the San Francisco 49ers before returning to rugby league.

Holmes secured a contract at the Jets as part of the NFL's International Pathway Program.

While it was a dream to be part of an NFL franchise, he couldn't envisage actually playing in the big league and the Jets' on-field struggles (they finished with a 7-9 record) didn't help.

 

 

"The pathway I was on didn't really help my situation at trying to get a crack at playing anytime soon," Holmes said.

"I wasn't doubting my ability, but I was doubting whether it was all worth it.

"The team wasn't going too well. There wasn't much camaraderie between everyone and I wasn't used to that coming from here where everyone is close.

"Not having anyone to talk to…I'd be at training from 6am-5.30pm, come home and sit in my room and go to bed.

"I didn't think it would be like that. I had no one to come home to, not my wife or even my dog or close friends.

"I like to get away (from sport), it's good to get out and do other stuff, but no one really socialises much over there.

"We were in New Jersey which was an hour from the city. There wasn't much to do. Everyone would do their own thing and go home.

"I was getting to a point where I needed to be earning as much as money as I can and looking after my family.

Holmes has hit the ground running since returning to Australia last November and is ready to build on his tally of 105 NRL games after missing the entire 2019 season.

He is bigger and stronger than when he left, given the training focus on explosive power in NFL players, but hasn't lost his scintillating speed.

Shifting from an ice cold New York winter to a scorching Townsville summer was a shock, but Holmes' fitness is nearing the level it needs to be to play the physically demanding position of fullback.

The Cowboys have languished near the bottom of the NRL ladder for the past two years and struggled to overcome the retirement of legendary halfback Johnathan Thurston.

Holmes is the club's marquee recruit for 2020 and is ready for the pressure and scrutiny that awaits because he has found the happiness he was missing in New York.

The signing of Holmes is a huge win for the Cowboys, who have lacked strike power in recent seasons. Picture: AAP.
The signing of Holmes is a huge win for the Cowboys, who have lacked strike power in recent seasons. Picture: AAP.

 

Holmes' parents, sister and brother live in Townsville and in August he will become an uncle to the first child of Cowboys captain Michael Morgan, who is married to Natalia's sister Brianna.

"I hold myself to high expectations," Holmes said.

"Everyone has an opinion but I try not to think about what other people think of me.

"I try to play my best and leave it all out there. Surely they can't be angry with you if you left everything out there, they can't expect you to win every game.

"I'm definitely happy, it's good to be home. I know what I'm doing. I like to clear my head and do things outside footy, which was hard to do when I wasn't happy.

"I don't regret going over there at all. I was mature enough to go over and I feel like I've learnt some lessons in my life.

"It's something I'll look back on when I'm older - to meet some of the guys I did, train and pull on an NFL jersey was pretty cool.

"I know I didn't play an NFL game but I got to play in those trials. I don't have any regrets at all.

"I'm done (with the NFL). I'm going to be staying here. I'm happy."



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