Queensland Maroons selector and legendary custodian Darren Lockyer says Valentine Holmes must put aside his frustrations around the Cronulla Sharks No.1 jumper and rediscover the form that made him a representative star.
Holmes's start to 2018 has raised eyebrows, with both Lockyer and Australian Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga calling on the 22-year-old to lift lest he put his rep jerseys in jeopardy.
After an unhappy night at fullback against North Queensland in round one, the 22-year-old was shuffled to the wing for last week's local derby with St. George Illawarra Dragons.
Holmes produced just about the quietest game of his career as the Sharks slumped to a second-straight defeat, with his seven runs for 52 metres prompting a bristling defence of his form and attitude by Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan.
Flanagan hits out at Holmes critics
Holmes's superb form on the wing for both Queensland and Australia has created a selection headache for the Sharks given his struggles at fullback and the arrival of Josh Dugan, who has once again been named at the back for Saturday's crunch clash with Parramatta.
As one of the greatest fullbacks of all time, Lockyer urged Holmes to get back to the basics of his game and focus on simply enjoying his footy rather than where it is being played.
"Maybe being put back to the wing, he looked like he wasn't happy with that decision," Lockyer told NRL.com.
"Watching Val, he looks like he's down on confidence. I just want to see him get back to enjoying his footy.
"When I love watching Val, it's those hit-ups early in the set where he's just running flat out at the defence, that's confidence right there.
"I love seeing that and when he's got an opportunity at the try line he just goes hell for leather at it.
"They're the two things that show he's on. And if he gets himself into the game by running hard early in the set I'd love to see him doing that and getting himself going again."
Lockyer backed Holmes to "get his head around playing wing again", and pointed to Cronulla's new playmaking combinations as a telling factor in both his and the Sharks' early struggles.
While the runs Holmes has on the board after stunning 2017 Origin and World Cup campaigns would seemingly keep his Queensland wing spot safe for now, Meninga applied the blowtorch in his weekly The Courier Mail column by declaring if Holmes "doesn't get back to his best soon, that Maroons team bus could be leaving without him."
The blunt assessment came in response to guarantees that Greg Inglis would return to the Queensland backline provided he was fully fit, piling pressure on recent debutants Holmes and Dane Gagai.
Back closer to home, Flanagan's juggling of Holmes and Dugan is an intriguing subplot to the Sharks' current woes given both are earning salaries well beyond that typically earned by even the NRL's elite wingers.
Dugan spent the majority of the loss to the Dragons playing a traditional fullback role, despite Flanagan's pre-game suggestion the pair would share the duties.
Saturday's near must-win contest with Parramatta sees Brad Arthur faced with a similar headache, with Jarryd Hayne to revert to his preferred position at the expense of Bevan French after their disastrous start to the season.
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