Rugby league legend who never lost his way
MATT Lodge would do well to learn from the man he will pack down against tonight.
James Graham's most endearing quality, according to those who really know him, is that the boy who turned up to play rugby league for St Helens as a teenager is the same person you see today.
So it was no surprise to see St George Illawarra's star recruit hand over his first Dragons jumper to a young fan in Mudgee after the recent Charity Shield.
"James is from a little town called Maghull, which is a real non-rugby league area under the shadows of Liverpool and Everton," recalled Dragons head of recruitment Ian Millward, who was St Helens coach in 2003.
"James and his family were big Everton fans.
"But I've seen him play soccer. Let me tell you, he was never going to play for Everton."
However, Millward recalls how Graham was not only born to play rugby league, he was born to inspire.
"I remember he was selected in the England under-18s against the Australian Schoolboys," Millward said.
"It was played at Featherstone, a bitterly cold night and no one was there.
"But when they started singing the national anthem, he sang it so loud and so passionate that I thought to myself, 'Wow, this will be interesting. I hope he can back it up'.
"But he was outstanding.
"And I thought to myself, 'this bloke is probably the future of English rugby league'."
Not long after Millward gave Graham his first-grade debut.
Tonight, 15 years on, he'll make his club debut for the Dragons against Brisbane.
On one side there will be a young man trying to find his way back. And opposing Lodge is this legend who never lost his way.
"A few people ask me that, what was he like when you gave him his debut?" Millward said.
"I swear I am looking at the same bloke.
"You know how you see some players come into the game and they just change?
"That's probably what sticks out most. James just never changed. And it's not just how he looks, the person is the same.
"He was always very passionate, very enthusiastic … and it shows in the man he is.
"He is just genuine in everything he does."
YOU have to hand it to the people of Newcastle.
When the new-look Knights run out on Friday night, they will be playing in front of a crowd of more than 22,000.
Not a bad effort for a team playing its first game of the season after three consecutive wooden spoons.
In fact, they're saying it will be Newcastle's third-biggest round-one crowd in history.
The previous biggest was for Wayne Bennett's first game in charge in 2012 against St George Illawarra and before that the Knights' very first home game against Parramatta in 1988.
BOY OH BOYD
QUOTE of the week belonged to Boyd Cordner (below) after hearing the Sydney Roosters had secured Kurt Baptise's services from English club Leigh as a
back-up hooker to Jake Friend.
"He is an awesome player," Cordner said, unaware of the news. "I heard that the Raiders didn't want to really let him go but for salary cap reasons they had to."
Do you see the irony, too?\
Gotta love the Sombrero.
THE WRONG JT
AND good luck to Johnathan Thurston in his 300th NRL game tomorrow night.
I know Buzz Rothfield this week rated Jason Taumalolo at the top of his best 50 players in the game but Thurston was the standout before he was injured last year.
And I'm still backing him to win his fifth Dally M Medal in what will be his final season.