James Graham: England prop delighted to play for St Helens again

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
James Graham
James Graham started his career at St Helens in 2003

Great Britain and England prop James Graham sees his St Helens return as an "exciting opportunity" after nine seasons in Australia's elite NRL.

The 34-year-old, who played 186 games for Canterbury and most recently St George Illawarra, left Saints after the 2011 Grand Final defeat by Leeds.

Graham helped Canterbury to NRL Grand Finals in 2012 and 2014.

"There were a lot of mixed emotions, realising my playing time [in the NRL] was up," Graham said.

"But the opportunity to come home is something I'm really excited about, I'd been on the phone to a couple of the lads and genuinely excited to get involved.

"It's a bit of fortune with the opportunity coming as it has but I'm delighted to get the chance to force myself into the team and to play for Saints again."

In addition to team achievements with the Bulldogs, Merseyside-born Graham was a popular figure with fans as a ball-playing front-rower rather than just a straight up the middle route-one prop.

That style earned him the Dally M prop of the year award in 2014, the year his Bulldogs side lost to Sam Burgess' South Sydney in the season's showpiece.

Returning to Saints... and a new home

Since Graham's exit on the back of the 2011 disappointment under Royce Simmons, there has been much change at Saints on and off the field.

The prospect of playing at Langtree Park - still being built on his departure - is one prospect to be relished, as is the unique atmosphere of the British game as compared to Australian crowds.

"The biggest thing is the noise," Graham added. "The way the two sets of fans back in England goad each other.

"If you're playing prop and stood on the backline you can receive a few 'pleasantries' from opposition fans, which is always good fun.

"Whereas every game is televised over here, the video ref is at every game, the media commitments as part of the collective bargaining agreement which you have to adhere to, there are a few differences."

Working with a new crop

While there are some familiar faces among the Saints crop - the evergreen James Roby, Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax and some England and Great Britain colleagues, there are also a number of talented players who have never taken to the field alongside Graham.

His experience could prove valuable to such players within the pack such as Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth and even the established Morgan Knowles.

He will also find himself working under old pals such as CEO Mike Rush, and coach and former teammate Paul Wellens.

"I'm here to try my best," Graham continued. "Kristian [Woolf - head coach] spoke to me about the experience I can bring and particularly give some pointers to some of the players and that's something I did when I was at St George Illawarra and at the back end when I was at Canterbury too.

"But to be fair I'd just encourage them to be the best players they can be, don't try to be something they're not."

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