Happy Holmes back on the big stage

Photo: Karen Watson

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Ask most shrewd judges in and around Sydney club rugby for their opinion on Josh Holmes and they’ll all say the same thing –“I can’t believe he hasn’t got a Super Rugby contract.” And if you’d had the pleasure of watching his performances for Warringah over the last 12 months, you’d find it pretty difficult to make a case against him being one of the top fifteen scrumhalves in the country.

The IRB International U19 Player of the Year in 2006, Holmes is blessed with pace, power and size for a scrummie – 6ft 2in and 94 kilos to be exact. His game smarts from his time in Super Rugby make him a stand out in club land, as well as his knack of finding the chalk – with 16 tries last season, and five to his name already this year. But after 56 caps from his stints with the Waratahs (twice), Brumbies and Western Force, he – like elder brother Luke – had found himself bafflingly surplus to requirements at the next level of the game in 2014. Until now.

Answering a call from the Rebels to cover an injury to Nic Stirzaker, Holmes packed himself off to Melbourne two weeks ago to take up a short-term contract until Stirzaker’s return. However, a knee injury incurred by Luke Burgess in last Saturday’s win over the Queensland Reds has fast tracked him into a place on the bench for tonight’s clash with the Waratahs at AAMI Park, with Ben Meehan assuming the starting role. To say he’s looking forward to it would be an understatement.

“I’m really excited. The Rebels have a great culture and have been very welcoming so I’m stoked to get a chance and I’m raring to go,” Holmes told me after the matchday 23 was announced yesterday.

“It’s just good to get back on the Super Rugby scene. I’m still only 27, I actually feel younger than that, and I’m probably playing the best footy of my career, so I’m really excited about coming down here and having a crack again. I’ll certainly rip in and give it my best shot,” he added.

Josh Holmes_Waratahs v Highlanders_2011

Holmes is keen to add to the 56 caps he already has from his time with
the Waratahs, Brumbies and Western Force

Holmes’ last Super Rugby appearance was for the Force in the final round of the 2012 season, alongside the retiring Nathan Sharpe. Twenty-two months on, he had a brief sojourn in France with Bourgoin before returning back to his home of Newport on the Northern beaches, and a readjustment to club rugby for his beloved Warringah Rats.

But while everyone else has been pleading his case for a return to the professional ranks, Holmes himself has been happy to sit back and let nature take its course while he concentrates on building the foundations of his post-footy career. Newlywed, it seems that his life off the field has now given him a better grounding in what happens on it.

“I haven’t really been putting that pressure on myself, I’ve just kind of carried on with the rest of my life,” he admits. “I got married in January to my beautiful wife, which was awesome, and I’m just enjoying being married. I’ve got a great job, which I’m still learning, so each day is a challenge. But I’m starting to make some headway, so I think with all that, I’m just not worrying about footy too much. I’ve got so many other good things going on in my life that when it comes to footy I’m just enjoying every minute I get to play out there.”

He is the first to concede that getting an opportunity to rejoin the professional arena, albeit temporarily for now, wouldn’t have been possible without the support network of those at home and at work.

RATS v Southern Districts, Forshaw Park - 5 April 2014.

Holmes leaves Souths’ Rohan Saifoloi behind – Photo: Karen Watson

“My wife is my biggest supporter and she has always backed me and kept me upbeat to strive for this opportunity again. Workwise, I do sales for a company called Global Gaming and my bosses, Scott MacDougall and Curt Pahl, have been outstanding and really backed me to take this opportunity. We are working together at still keeping me in contact with my clients and in a week or so we’ll discuss where we are at, but they have been great.”

For now, his focus is firmly fixed on helping the Rebels beat the Waratahs, and hopefully getting as many minutes on field as possible to impress in the process. But he is under no illusions as to the task facing his new team if they want to emulate last season’s home triumph over their Sydney based rivals.

“The Tahs are a great side that are playing well, so it’s going to be a tough night. But if I get a chance I’ll be throwing everything I have at them,” he promises. “Nick Phipps is a great defender and is always busy, while Brendan McKibbin is quick around the rucks, organises well and likes to have a little snipe. It will be a good test.”

With Luke Burgess now expected to be out for between six to eight weeks, and Nic Stirzaker for four to six, that short-term contract might need revising if things go well for Holmes tonight, and again next week against the Brumbies. But while his desire to test, and indeed prove himself, in the Super Rugby ranks, is definitely a scratch that won’t stop itching. If nothing else does come of it, you get the impression he’s not going to lose any sleep over a return to playing footy with old friends on the parks and ovals of the Shute Shield.

“All the boys are good mates down at the Rats and we’ve all been through the hard times at the club. So it’s really good to see us going well and getting some good wins, and start to produce something a bit better than we have the last four or five years,” he says. “I’m just really enjoying my rugby, and if I do get another shot at Super Rugby permanently, I’ll certainly be putting my best foot forward.”

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First published by Rugby News on May 23rd, 2014

 

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