Written by John Davidson
It was in 2012 when the last fair-haired English prop from St Helens landed at Belmore.
James Graham went on to become a fan favourite at Canterbury, captaining the club and helping them into two grand finals. Across six years and 135 games with the Bulldogs the front-rower was a cornerstone of Des Hasler’s side, a standout performer and a leader.
He never wanted to leave the Dogs, but was forced out at the end of 2017 because of salary cap pressure. Still, ‘Jammer’ remains a legend of the blue and white and a respected figure across the NRL.
Eight years on and Canterbury have dipped into the same well from the same club for a similar player in the same position. Back in 2012 Graham was the best front-rower in Super League, a star at St Helens and an England international when he moved down under.
So is the Dogs’ latest recruit, Luke Thompson.
Like Graham, the 25-year-old has been fashioned and made by Saints. He has spent 14 years with St Helens, seven of those in first-grade at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Thompson is now a pivotal member of the England test team and a two-time grand final winner, winning deciders both last year and in 2014. Like Graham was then, he is a proven entity ready for a new challenge in Australia.
The 34-year-old might be three centimetres taller and two kilograms heavier than his younger compatriot, but they are both tough, hard-nosed characters who don’t take a backward step. Thompson might not arguably have the silky halfback hands that the Dragons forward has, but the Bold Miners junior is physical, strong and quick for a middle.
— Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) June 12, 2020
He hits like a freight truck and can play big minutes. Like Graham he is the kind of prop you can build a team around, exactly what Canterbury needs right now.
Thompson is built low to the ground, with a strong core and a barrel-like chest that helps him smash through defences. He will lead from the front and is a competitor. Like Graham, he should thrive in the high-intensity furnace that is the NRL.
The Bulldogs have pulled off a coup in getting the 25-year-old now and not at the start of 2021. The Dogs are in the middle of a difficult rebuilding phase, with questionable squad depth, but they have a find on their hands in Thompson.
John Bateman, Elliot Whitehead, Josh Hodgson, the Burgess’ and James Graham are English imports that have all made a real impact in Australia in the past decade. Thompson is the latest cab off the rank and destined to follow in their footsteps.
If he can make even half the contribution his fellow countryman did at Belmore, then the Doggies faithful should be stoked.