There can be no doubting that England’s James Graham is one of rugby league’s premier forwards. The man who is his country’s record cap holder has starred in the NRL for Canterbury Bulldogs since 2012 but, in 2018, he will be returning to a club with a familiar colour scheme.
That is because the former St Helens prop is heading to the NRL’s own team with the red ‘v’ in St George Illawara Dragons. Graham began considering a move from the Bulldogs in the latter part of last year and, in turn, ended up in discussions with the decision makers at the WIN Stadium about possibly moving to the NSW club. During those conversations, present was the man who gave the fierce forward his Super League debut in 2003 – Australian Ian Millward, who happens to the the director of rugby league pathways for St George. While that appearance in fifteen seasons ago was the only one Graham would make in that campaign, he went onto have two under Millward’s stewardship and the Liverpool born forward credits this as a reason for the move, stating that “Ian was actually the coach at the time of me making my first-team debut so it was really nice to have a familiar face involved. That definitely helped.”
It is Millward’s tutelage that Graham believes has ensured that he has remained one of the game’s most effective forwards for in excess of a decade after instilling a strong work ethic in him and he would train with the first team in time off school, saying “At 16, there were a few of us who would go and train with the first team in school holidays and at other times, just to get a taste of it” and that Millward taught him “about the extras culture and other things that really rubbed off,” truly setting him on a trajectory that would take him to the top table of rugby league.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor was another impressive part of the club that attracted Graham to join with the Scouser stating that “I like how down to earth he is. He seems like he has got a lot of time for his players and he made a lot of time for me and my family when we went down to Wollongong.” Last season saw St George slide out of the top eight towards the end of the campaign after a strong start with the club falling six points short of opponents on five occasions in 2017 – highlighting how tight the NRL can be – but Graham believes that the club can reign supreme Down Under during his initial three year stay with the club. Indeed, the signing of Ben Hunt from Brisbane to compliment Graham’s England teammate and club captain Gareth Widdop in the halves promises to give St George a very strong platform in 2018 and, with Graham set to provide the leadership in the pack, signs point to a strong campaign.
The forward himself has said he feels a great season could be ahead but, more pertinently, a strong future for the club, saying that “it is clear to see that it is club with massive potential these next few years.” Indeed, Graham is undoubtedly a top drawer signing for the club and the Dragons’ fans will no doubt be delighted that his previous relationship with Millward has seen him put pen to paper for 2018 and beyond.