Holmes is where the heart is: Warringah veteran ‘enjoying rugby for what it is’ at Pittwater
By Matt Findlay
Hindsight’s twenty-twenty and looking back at his professional career Warringah halfback Josh Holmes readily admits there are aspects he’d change given the chance, although he made peace with that some time ago.
The IRB’s under-19 player of the year in 2006, Holmes made his Super debut for the Waratahs the following year before being mooted as George Gregan’s successor at the Brumbies after a much-publicised shift.
He never cemented his place in the Brumbies’ No.9 jersey though and moved back to NSW in search of opportunity before becoming somewhat of a journeyman, having stints in France, at the Western Force and the Rebels too.
He made a single appearance for the latter franchise in 2014 before one last opportunity with the Australian 7s after that.
Throughout his stop-start career, which came after being handed the tag of Australian rugby’s next big thing as a teenager, he ultimately made 57 Super appearances.
“I’ve been asked a few times how I look back on [my professional career]. I’m grateful for the chances I had and the time I spent at the professional level, and the fact I got to travel the world playing rugby,” Holmes said, adding he’d “never say never” should an opportunity to revive that career present itself.
“I got the chance to play Super Rugby at quite a young age and looking back there’s definitely a lot of things I’d change … but that’s part of life, certainly a part of rugby.
“It’s out of my hands of course but if an opportunity was to come along again I’d definitely look at it, although I’m certainly not holding my breath thinking anyone’s going to call a 32-year-old … but I’d never say never.
“I still take my rugby very seriously … but once my professional career finished I think I did look at it and maybe changed the way I think about rugby a bit.”
Since then Holmes has been “enjoying rugby for what it is” with, of course, his beloved Warringah Rats, where he’s been through the rigours of a rebuild before enjoying dazzling highs in recent years.
Of course the highest of those was the 2017 Shute Shield premiership win, the Rats celebrating an emotional, 30-25 grand final victory over Northern Suburbs that year.
In fact the Rats have been the one constant throughout Holmes’ career, the veteran scrum-half always returning to Pittwater in between stints at the top.
“I love the club, I love Warringah,” Holmes said.
“The club does hold a very special place in my heart, you know, I’ve grown up at the Rats with my family involved, my dad, my brother.
“I was a part of the club when we were rebuilding and I’ve been lucky enough to be here the last few years when we’ve won a premiership and then played in the grand final last year as well, it’s been a good time.
“Hopefully that continues and then once I do retire I can still be involved with the club.”
A club that celebrates individuals’ success to the fullest, Holmes went on to say a highlight of his time at the Rats has been seeing his teammates earn their own opportunities at the next level, particularly in recent years.
“It’s exciting to see guys like Seb Wileman (Reds), Sam Thompson (Brumbies), Rory O’Connor (Waratahs) get an opportunity, and obviously Tom Connor with the Australian 7s as well,” Holmes said.
“They’ve all been a part of the club for a while and it’s been great to be able to sit back and see how they’ve grown from young boys to men, they’ve really stepped up in the way they play and present themselves and they’ve earned their rewards.
“When I was young I didn’t really have to go through the club stage, I virtually went straight from school to Super Rugby so to see them strive and work so hard in club rugby and then get that opportunity, it’s awesome.”
Holmes remains a mainstay at the base of the Rats’ ruck and that stability has been invaluable through a “changing of the guard”, with a new era of Warringah rugby beginning in many ways this year.
The side’s picked up two wins from four starts this year and although they sit above only the winless Western Sydney Two Blues, Holmes can see something building.
“We’re still getting used to a new voice, new coach in Mark Gerrard, but we’re building nicely I think,” Holmes said.
“A few guys have retired and a few have got those new opportunities, but the new guys are buying into our culture and what we’re about, we’re still learning about each other and the way we play, and you don’t play your finals in May.
“We do need to find some consistency, we’re coming into round six now and you can’t go through a season [without consecutive wins], so we do need to start stringing a few together, that’s our focus.”
Fresh from the bye, Holmes and his Rats face Randwick, a side he says “have definitely found some form”, at Pittwater Park on Saturday afternoon, from 3pm.