Dragons 2018: Graham ready for showdown with former club

FIRED UP: James Graham will play his first game against the Bulldogs on Monday after being off-loaded at the end of last season. Picture: AAP
FIRED UP: James Graham will play his first game against the Bulldogs on Monday after being off-loaded at the end of last season. Picture: AAP

If you looked into James Graham’s eyes before a clash with a former club five years ago you might have thought you’d won a feature on the pokies. Against a club that let him go after six years loyal service - jackpot.

These days however, the once volatile Englishman keeps that famous passion in check. Still, as coach Paul McGregor said on Sunday, Graham will have and “extra spring in his step” against the Bulldogs on Monday.

"Everyone has a point to prove, playing against their old club, and he got moved on,” McGregor said.

“We were in the right place at the right time to pick up such a quality person. He's a leader of men, a player that came into our organisation that knows how to win and knows how to show the way.

“He plays with passion and purpose. He talks the talk and walks the walk."

Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop agrees, but says his longtime England Test teammate now walks the thin red line with precision without letting emotion boil over.

“He's fired up each and every week he takes the field, it's just the way he goes about his business,” Widdop said. 

“It's just the way he is as an individual, he's very, very passionate, we've all seen it. He's changed his ways a little bit.

“It's a bit different from being at the Dogs where he was the captain. I played with him for England and he hasn't been the captain so he's probably not under that pressure.

"He still has his moments, which is great, he snaps which is quite funny, but he's been great for us. 

“Jammer's one of those individuals where it's just another game for him and he'll be going out there to do it to the best of his ability and play to our standards.

“Although it's against his former club, and it's always exciting playing against your old teammates, it's about a team performance, not going out there and doing anything silly.” 

Along with fellow big name recruit Ben Hunt, Graham has had a transformative effect on the club for which he was a late pick-up after being off-loaded by the Bulldogs.

He proved the first casualty of a salary cap mess still plaguing the club, with Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods both tipped to exit the club before the season’s out.

While the 32-year-old has had a clear impact on the club’s young forwards, fullback Matt Dufty said it’s something that been felt right across the squad.

“Jammer’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met and he’ll definitely come out and play one of his best games on Monday,” Dufty said.

“In preseason there were times where we’d run though some sets and we’d kick it dead and all the boys would be annoyed but he just sprinted back to the 30 [metre-line].

“People notice things like that and, by the end of preseason, everyone was sprinting back to the 30 if we were kicking it dead.

“He’s definitely rubbed off on the whole team. None of the forwards want to get left behind when he’s out there doing extras and it’s good for the team to have someone out there like that.” 

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