On the eve of a trans-Tasman semi-final set to rock the world stage, Kangaroos winger Valentine Holmes has revealed he could have been lining up against the green and gold on Saturday had he gone down a different path eight years ago.
After bursting onto the NRL scene in 2014, the then-19-year-old Cronulla winger was forced to make a choice around his international football and how it would effect his dream of representing Queensland in State of Origin.
“I got picked in the Kiwis and the Junior Kangaroos when I was 20, so that’s when I kind of had to make my mind up,” Holmes told the media ahead of Saturday’s semi-final.
“I was pretty close to going [to NZ] because I was in the train-on squad for the Kiwis but I was only in the Junior Kangaroos.
“So I could have run around with guys like Benji Marshall, they had a lot of cool Kiwi NRL players there and I was pretty nervous at the time but I think I’ve made the right decision.”
Fast forward to his second World Cup in green and gold and the 27-year-old is preparing in Manchester for a sudden-death showdown against the team he almost pledged his allegiance to.
With 13 Origin appearances for Queensland and some astonishing tryscoring feats at the 2017 World Cup to his name - including the most tries scored in a tournament (12) and a single match (6) - the Cowboys star said he holds no regrets over his decision.
Kangaroos Masterclass: Val Holmes
“My dad is Kiwi so I had a talk to him and he loves the Kiwis but he also loves the Maroons," Holmes said.
“I know half of my family would have been very happy if I had put on the black jersey but I know they’re all still happy with me playing for Australia and the Maroons.
“That was the only reason, for Queensland. You obviously can’t play for Queensland at Origin level when you play for New Zealand and then I got lucky enough to play for Australia so it has worked out.
“My dad will be supporting Australia."
Holmes was a standout at centre for Todd Payten's Cowboys in 2022, finishing the season as the NRL's top points scorer, but he is more than happy to be fulfilling wing duties in Mal Meninga's line-up.
“I’m just happy to be playing to be honest, Mal is obviously just picking the strongest team and you’ve got to have Jack (Wighton), Latrell (Mitchell) and Josh (Addo-Carr) in the backs as well.
"If you ask any player in the team, I’m sure they’d be happy wherever they are in the team.
Addo-Carr bags a handful
“That’s probably why I did get picked, because I’m versatile enough to play in a number of positions so it’s good to see that Mal has entrusted me to play wing even though I haven’t played there for a year.”
With Meninga naming 13 debutants in his side this year, Holmes is the only Kangaroo to have featured in Australia’s last game against the Kiwis in the UK, playing on the wing in the 2016 Four Nations final.
Match Highlights: New Zealand v Fiji
“It’s always a tough game against New Zealand, they always turn up against us,” he said.
“It’s usually a niggly, grinding, physical game but I think it’s going to be played pretty tough through our middle there.
“Their middles and our middles are probably the best forwards in the game so I’m excited to play.”
Match: Australia v New Zealand
Semi Finals -
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds