BY CURTIS WOODWARD
When a 25-year-old James Graham announced his was leaving St Helens in 2011, Super League lost some of its soul. He was already the captain of his country and a Man of Steel winner.
Australia didn’t know what they were getting.
Here was just another pasty white, redhead with a thick pommy accent.
“I’ve been on the books with Saints since I was 11 years old and I grew up supporting the club,” Graham said at the time.
“I love the place and I never wanted to play against them, and as such I didn’t consider any other Super League options.”
Graham had an itch. A thirst. Something deep inside himself that kept telling him he needed to travel to the other side of the world and challenge himself against the best.
We then realised what we had.
Time stops for no man and rugby league moves just as fast.
Perhaps we forget, in 2019, how good Graham has been. And we’re not talking ‘run metres’, ‘post-contact metres’ or how many bench presses you can do in the gym. We’re talking about heart and a drive to overcome the man in front of you.
Graham has been a true warrior.
He is old school and truly believes in the art form, the science, of being a prop forward.
The science is simple but many will never understand it.
This viking from Maghull, just north of Liverpool in dreary old England, wants to outlast you. He wants to beat you. Graham will never run over you but he will bleed more. He’ll run when his legs don’t work beneath him. In the 84th minute of golden point when you’re on a knee, sucking in your last breaths, he will stand and pump his chest out.
When I was a kid watching the Kangaroo Tour of 1994, Australia against the old enemy still meant a little bit. I was reminded by my old man what it meant back in his day.
You’re not supposed to like the English.
Growing up, I thought Glenn Lazarus was the greatest footy player in the world. Others liked Andrew Johns, Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer. But I always loved the props.
Your writer can proudly say today that Graham stands above Lazarus.
Whatever Graham has, NRL coaches could do worse than extract Graham’s heart and ration it out to budding forwards for the next twenty years.
Maybe we love him more because he doesn’t shy away from the game?
Others will roll out a thousand clichés – Graham tells it how it is.
It’s his sport.
Rugby league is a combat sport, as raw as anything else you can find.
Graham understands the game as much as Johns or Langer ever did.
He just plays it differently.
The man is a national treasure, unfortunately he’s not ours.
When aspiring players – not just props – look to improve their game or look for an edge, they will never go wrong watching Graham.
Watch him, closely, his passion, and you will be a better player.
This weekend he officially plays 400 first grade games.
224 for his beloved St Helens, 135 for his beloved Canterbury Bulldogs and 41 for his beloved Dragons.
He loves all of them.
43 mighty games for England, 5 for Great Britain.
Graham smears the colours across his face and goes to war.
Wingers score flashy tries, halfbacks win Dally M’s, props pave the way.
To Mr. Graham…
Pave on and thank you.
Thanks for being my favourite player.