Hayne pain proves huge gain for Holmes
VALENTINE Holmes is confident his NRL career won't fizzle out like Jarryd Hayne's, after revealing he has returned from the NFL stronger and just as fast.
Holmes will play his first game of rugby league in 490 days when he pulls on a North Queensland Cowboys jersey for the first time on Saturday night in Cairns.
The Queensland State of Origin flyer's last outing in the 13-man code was for the Kangaroos in a Test against Tonga on October 20, 2018.
Weeks later, Holmes shocked the NRL when he sought a release from his Cronulla contract to pursue a dream of playing American football in the NFL.
Holmes spent a year in the US with the New York Jets, missing the entire 2019 NRL season, but was unable to crack the team's top squad and played in only a handful of trial games.
At 24, Holmes decided to end his NFL experiment last November and returned to his hometown of Townsville to sign a six-year contract with the Cowboys.
Hayne was the last NRL player to try his hand at the NFL.
The two-time Dally M Medal winner quit the NRL at his peak in 2014 and played eight NFL games for San Francisco in 2015.
Hayne returned to the NRL, via a brief cameo in rugby sevens, with the Gold Coast Titans in late 2016 as a 28-year-old, but never reached the same lofty heights and is no longer in the game.
Holmes said he was better prepared to return to the NRL after completing the bulk of North Queensland's preseason.
"I didn't think he (Hayne) was really bad," Holmes said.
"I thought he played OK, he wasn't back to his 2009 year (first Dally M), but he was getting older.
"He went to rugby sevens and did other things then just jumped straight back into (the NRL).
"He came back and went straight into playing. He got a lot of hate, but that was always going to be hard for anyone to do.
"I've come straight back and got into preseason. I was struggling at the start when I came back, so I'm grateful I got to come back earlier."
Holmes put his hand up to play in Saturday night's trial game against the Broncos, telling coach Paul Green he did not want to be rested, as captain Michael Morgan will be.
Holmes will start at fullback and wants to get straight into the action ahead of his NRL return against the Broncos on March 13.
When Holmes left the NRL he was one of the game's elite winger-fullbacks, scoring 66 tries in 105 games for Cronulla and boasting an incredible Origin strike rate of eight tries in five matches.
Few players move like Holmes and he said explosive NFL training had made him stronger.
"I want to start playing full contact, getting some minutes, contesting catches and kicks," he said.
"I definitely feel stronger - all we did was weights and speed-based training. I put on a couple of kilos but I don't think I've lost my speed.
"It was more so my endurance (that was lacking when I returned), but I'm definitely getting that back now we're getting ready for games and training a bit longer.
"I was only out of the game for 11 months."
Training as a running back in America meant Holmes did not have to practise defending.
He is hoping he won't need to do much tackling at fullback, but is ready for whatever comes his way.
"When I got back before Christmas all we did was tackling and wrestling," he said.
"It brought back some memories. I shouldn't have to tackle too much playing fullback.
"I'm really enjoying (playing fullback) again.
"It's good to join a new club, new facilities, new team and camaraderie. It's fun to mix it up a bit to what I was used to at the Sharks.
"I'm loving being back."
Saturday night's trial is expected to be a high-quality hit-out with a host of big names playing, including Cowboys stars Jason Taumalolo and Jordan McLean, along with Broncos big guns Payne Haas, Alex Glenn and Anthony Milford.
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold said he was eager to see Holmes return to the game.
"It's fantastic to see Valentine back," he said.
"I've had a bit to do with him in some rep sides over the years and he's a really good young man.
"It's great to have him back in the game because he is an excitement machine and he took himself out of his comfort zone, which I really like.
"I like that he was brave enough to make a tough call and go to America and give it a red-hot crack.
"Not everyone would do that, so it's great to have him back in our game."
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