Former St Helens prop James Graham celebrates 400th professional game with surprise visit from family in Australia
When he travelled with his boots tucked under one arm from his home in Maghull to Knowsley Road as a starry-eyed teenager, James Graham could never have dreamt that one day he would reach a magical milestone in his successful rugby career, both in Super League and the NRL.
But the prop forward - now 33 and England's most capped player of all-time - made his 400th club appearance this weekend as St George Illawarra Dragons beat Gold Coast Titans 40-28 in the NRL.
Graham, who joined Saints from local amateur club Blackbrook,said: “I’ve been a bit lost for words with all the support I’ve received.
“Rugby league has given me so much in my life. It’s just something I’ve loved doing and it didn’t matter if I player one or 400 games.''
He added: “I love playing the sport, I love my team-mates, past and present, and I can’t thank you enough for all their kind words this week.
“I appreciate the support I’ve received throughout the years from all the clubs and countries that I’ve played for and particularly St Helens who gave me my first real break in the professional.”
Neither did he expect to be watched by all his immediate family, including his parents John and Dianne, who had jetted-in from Merseyside.
He said: “I was very, very surprised I had spoke to my mum on Tuesday or Wednesday and she said, ‘good luck’ and all this, and I said, ‘if you are thinking of coming I will kill you’. She just laughed it off and I thought that was it.
“There are lots of stories in rugby league, and it is not just with me, but my parents made a big commitment and a big sacrifice to the family to get me to training and to get me to games from 11 years of age, four nights a week and Saturdays and Sundays.
“They did that not because they wanted to see me play in the NRL, but because they saw that one of their sons was passionate about something.”
Graham’s brother, sister-in-law and their two children were also at the match, and the 33-year-old said afterwards that his siblings had also had to make sacrifices for him to play at the level he did, which included representing England Under-16s.
Graham’s career began in the Betfred Super League with St Helens for whom he made 224 appearances and won the Super League Grand Final, Challenge Cup Final and World Club Challenge.
The prop-forward made the move to Australia in 2012 and went on to make 135 appearances for Canterbury Bulldogs.
He joined the Dragons at the start of the 2018 season and his 41st appearance for the club was his 400th club career appearance.