IN-FORM Castleford Tigers ace Oli Holmes is happy for everyone else to talk up his England chances – but you won’t hear him insisting he deserves a crack at the international game.
The strong-running second-row has established himself as one of the most reliable, consistent forwards in Super League.
Despite still only being aged 22, he has already amassed more than 1oo games for his hometown club and is one of the first names on Daryl Powell’s teamsheet.
Although Holmes does not have the profile of some of his more recognised team-mates, there is no doubting his talent and value to the team, illustrated once more in their epic 31-24 derby win at leaders Leeds Rhinos last Thursday.
It is no surprise, with his prolific workrate, defensive strength and powerful carrying, that he has been bracketed as someone who may interest national boss Steve McNamara.
“I am happy with how I’m playing at the moment,” admitted Holmes, as Castleford prepared to host new leaders St Helens on Thursday.
“I don’t want to be thinking about stuff like that (England) though.
“You’ll get the same sort of response from people who get the same sort of questions.
“But representing our country is why we all play rugby so…”
Holmes’ main problem is the fact England are already so well stacked with second-rows.
Wigan Warriors’ trio Liam Farrell, Joel Tomkins and Jon Bateman, plus mainstays like Huddersfield Giants’ Brett Ferres and Warrington’s Ben Westwood are all in front of him. Catalans Dragons’ Elliott Whitehead made his England debut last season, too, and has followed up with some Man of Steel form while Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward and Warrington’s Ben Currie were both invited to McNamara’s get-together last month. Nevertheless, Castleford are reaping the rewards of a player who emerged from their academy and debuted in 2010 when still just 17 years old.
The victory over Leeds was their first at Headingley since the year of that Holmes’ debut, Powell’s side showing tremendous character having seen an 18-0 lead evaporate to be level 24-24 late on – only to find another gear and deliver success.
“We spoke about going 80 minutes with Leeds,” revealed Holmes.
“They’d had a very short turnaround from Sunday to Thursday so we’d said they might possibly struggle towards the last 10 minutes.
“I think we played quite a bit of smart rugby in that last 10 minutes.”
Castleford will know they must improve further to defeat St Helens, however, who claimed top spot with a fine victory over rivals Wigan Warriors on Friday.
Tigers were 18-0 up for a second successive week having done the same at Hull KR before having to battle for victory.
Saints are likely to be less lenient.
Holmes, who scored a try in last season’s Challenge Cup final loss against Leeds at Wembley, added: “It’s three weeks on the bounce we’ve done that now as it was similar against Wakefield at Magic. We spoke about it that once the game turned their way it’s all about grabbing it back and our next actions.
“Coming in at half-time 18-16 up we were still reasonably happy and we just had to build on it and start again. We did that at the start of the second half and it was awesome to get the win.
“It’s my first at Headingley which is a great stadium and atmosphere, especially when it’s Cas/Leeds.
“But we’re back at the Jungle on Thursday. We’ve not been there for three weeks so it’ll be good to get back on our home ground against the new leaders and look to knock them off too.”
Castleford have now won three consecutive games for the first time this season and remain level with Huddersfield Giants in fourth.
If they could usurp Saints in Thursday’s televised game they would close the gap to the top to just four points.
Holmes’ pack colleague Andy Lynch said: “We wanted to go to Headingley and make a statement to the rest of Super League that we can match the best.
“The way Leeds have played this season, I think we have done that.
“We did some good stuff at times. At other times we let Leeds back in and they got on top at stages but we dug in well and hung in for 80 minutes to come away with two points.
“It was a great feeling and a massive game for us to win.
“We’ve had time to reflect on it but now we have another huge game – Saints at The Jungle – and we have to back it up again.”
Lynch, 35, was delighted for Powell who gained his first win against Leeds since leaving the club in 2003.
“He used to play and coach there so for him to go get that result was massive,” said the prop.
“He was probably a bit stressed out towards the end but happy.
“To go 18-0 up, you can’t afford to slacken off against Leeds as they have points in them for 80 minutes.
“They showed that towards the end when off-loading on their own line. But we’d worked towards that all week, so we stuck in and worked hard and got the rewards.”