Written by Stuart McLennan
In a rugby league competition where players speak in cliches and media talking points, Englishman James Graham was a point of difference.
Whether he was throwing his arms about and remonstrating with referees regarding a decision that went against his team, or fronting up to the media after a loss, (an all too common occurrence at the Dragons recently) Graham always spoke with honesty and passion.
He was the player journalists would seek out for a quote on the current state of the St George-Illawarra club or the issue of concussion and its adverse effects on rugby league players.
It earned him a regular spot on the Fox NRL 360 panel. He impressed viewers as a deep thinker whose opinions were not swayed by colleagues.
Graham arrived at the Bulldogs in 2012 from St Helens with a reputation as a good player. He will leave this country widely considered as one the best to have played down under.
The granite tough middle forward demonstrated deft ball skills and feel for the game that went beyond the norm.
What fans will remember most is his passion and competitive nature. It brought about some unforgettable on-field battles with his opposition. None more memorable than his collisions with recently retired English team mate Sam Burgess.
The vision of Burgess breaking his cheekbone after it came into contact with Bulldogs captain James Graham’s head in the first tackle of the 2014 Grand Final, is etched into the minds of rugby league fans across the globe.
At almost 35 years old and 185 games in the NRL, the 2014 Dally M Prop of the Year is looking to return to his beloved St Helens club where he has played 224 games. It appears that St George-Illawarra won’t stand in his way if they can find a suitable replacement.
The NRL will lose a great player and a genuine character when James Graham boards his flight out of Sydney.