Written by Callum Walker
Aged 34, James Graham is in the twilight of his career, but rumours of a move back to his boyhood club St Helens are beginning to gather pace.
Graham signed with St Helens as a junior in 2000, progressing all the way through Saints’ academy system before making his senior début against Castleford aged 18 in August 2003. Graham already had leadership experience after captaining the England Academy in a famous series victory in Australia in 2004 and his performances at prop as a youngster demonstrated his potential from an early age.
Only in his early 20s, Graham became a formidable figure in the St Helens pack, playing a significant role in the Lancashire club’s Challenge Cup and Grand Final successes in 2006. His role was recognised as he obtained his first national cap that year as well as being awarded the Super League Young Player of the Year and a place in the Dream Team too.
Going from strength to strength, 2007 was a year in which Graham earned recognition from his club, winning Saints’ Young Player of the Year and being rewarded with a new contract as Saints won the Challenge Cup for a second year running. By now, Graham was one of the first names on St Helens’ teamsheet and 2008 showed just why.
Not only was Graham named in the 2008 Super League Dream Team, but he was also awarded the prestigious Man of Steel for the way in which he conducted himself that season.
St Helens won the Challenge Cup for the third time in a row in 2008 with Graham at the forefront of this victory, leading his pack with formidable runs and lionheart defence.
Over the course of nine seasons, Graham racked up 225 appearances for St Helens, scoring 53 tries. Unfortunately for Graham, he had the unwanted achievement of five consecutive Grand Final losses from 2007 until his final year in 2011.
This would become six when a move to NRL side Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs saw Graham leave Lancashire for New South Wales at the age of 27 and appear in the 2012 NRL Grand Final where his Canterbury side lost to Melbourne Storm. Graham again appeared in a Grand Final – this time in 2014 – but was once more licking his wounds as his Bulldogs side were beaten by the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
An incredible seven Grand Final losses in ten seasons was a tough pill to take for the flame-haired enforcer. After scoring nine tries in 139 appearances over the course of six seasons for the Bulldogs, Graham left Canterbury for St George Illawarra Dragons.
With Saints prop Luke Thompson heading Down Under next season, the Lancashire club are on the lookout for a big-name forward to fill the void left by their current number ten. And, where better else to look than their former fans’ favourite? He has yet to sign a new deal at St George and he could be just the enforcer Saints are looking for.