Former Saints prop Graham aims to build on World Cup performance
James Graham says the mid-season Test against New Zealand will give England the opportunity to build on their good work from the World Cup and justify the new-found respect that came with it.
The former St Helens prop helped England reach their first final for 22 years and, although they fell just short in losing 6-0 to Australia in Brisbane, Graham says the team’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
Wayne Bennett’s men are back in action in the unusual setting of Denver on Saturday, when they take on a new-look Kiwis team playing for the first time under recently-appointed coach Michael Maguire.
“When you speak to Australians, we seem to have gained a lot of respect from the World Cup campaign and especially the final,” Graham said.
“It was a strong campaign. We didn’t get the win but we built something there that we want to continue on with as a group.”
Graham, who moved from Canterbury Bulldogs to St George Illawarra after the World Cup, was especially vocal in his backing for the controversial mid-season trip to Colorado and was among the signatories to a letter sent to the NRL and its clubs urging them to drop their opposition to the game.
Graham’s club are still so concerned over the fixture that they are sending their strength and conditioning expert Nathan Pickworth to Denver to monitor the health and well-being of the front rower and his Dragons team-mate Gareth Widdop, with the pair due to arrive back in Sydney barely 48 hours before their next match.
Graham said: “I’m a huge advocate for international rugby league. Sometimes you’ve got to pay a price for that but I think the price is worth paying.
“We were very passionate about getting this game on. There is the potential to grow this for the next three years and every time i get to represent my country it fills me with immense pride.”
England are without four members of their World Cup final team because of injury while stand-off Kevin Brown has retired but Graham is looking forward to being reunited with two of his old St Helens team-mates, as well as a few youngsters from his former club, who provide five members of the 19-man squad.
“It’s always good to play with people like James Roby and Jonny Lomax and it’s good to see a few of the young lads who were just coming through when I was there,” said England’s most-capped current international who will make his 40th Test appearance on Saturday.
Saints centre Mark Percival, who made only one appearance in the World Cup, looks set to win his fifth cap and team-mates Tommy Makinson and Luke Thompson are hoping to make their debuts.
Makinson says he is hoping the Betfred Super League leaders can take their winning mentality into the England team.
“Every player here is fantastic,” he said. “There are different types of players, some clubs are winning, some are losing but when we come here we all buy into one thing.
“Everyone brings some thing different and hopefully we can bring that winning feeling and confidence in the squad.”