Cronulla captain Wade Graham has hit out at former teammate Valentine Holmes, claiming the now North Queensland fullback handled his exit from the club "the wrong way" as he chased an NFL career.
The Sharks travel to North Queensland to take on the Cowboys on Saturday night, which will be the first meeting between Holmes and his former club since his departure in 2018.
Cronulla were reportedly keen to offer Holmes a lucrative long-term five-year extension but the Queensland Origin star turned that down to instead pursue an NFL career.
He was recruited to the New York Jets as part of the league's International Player Pathway Program. Holmes played four preseason games, primarily as a running back and wide receiver before being cut by the Jets and returning to the NRL with North Queensland.
Ahead of Saturday's Cowboys-Sharks clash, Graham said there were concerns at Cronulla over the timing of Holmes' departure and how it left the club scrambling to replace him.
"I thought Val was let down by his management with the way it happened," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"No one would've begrudged him a thing if he wanted to go and do what he did. But the way it all happened, there was a lot of fallout because he left us in a hole.
"If his management and himself had been upfront there would've been no dramas.
"They took it to the death. It was just handled the wrong way. If they could go back in time and change the way they handled it I'm sure they would handle it differently."
Holmes returned to Australia in November after he was cut by the Jets, but Graham said he wished the 24-year-old had given the NFL another crack.
"You can't share a dressing room with someone for so long and not be excited by what he did over there," Graham said.
"He went across the world to challenge himself in the NFL.
"I wish he would've stuck at it longer. I know it's a hard, cutthroat business over there - I don't know much about the inner-workings and Val would've naturally had a better gauge with how he was tracking.
"He can't have been too far behind any of their best athletes. He couldn't have been.
"If he had given it a bit of time and maybe got an opportunity somewhere who knows what could've happened."