The Rugby Football League today pays tribute to James Graham for an outstanding international career, after the St Helens forward confirmed he does not wish to be considered for selection for next year’s World Cup.
Graham, who turned 35 earlier this month, is the most-capped England player in Rugby League history with 44, while his total of 53 caps also including nine for Great Britain makes him the second most-capped player in British Rugby League history, one behind Adrian Morley’s 54.
He was a senior figure in the England team who reached a first World Cup final for 22 years in 2017, after previous campaigns in 2008 and 2013 had ended at the semi final stage, and the length of his international career is underlined by his involvement in home series victories over New Zealand with Great Britain in 2007, and with England in 2018.
He captained England in eight Tests – the first time against New Zealand in Wellington in 2010 at the unusually young age of 25 – and Great Britain in four.
He had been part of the plans for the new England coach Shaun Wane for this year’s home Ashes series against Australia.
But following the cancellation of that series as part of Rugby League’s response to Covid-19, Graham informed Wane that he is planning to retire at the end of 2020 – officially bringing to a close his representative career.
His club career has been similarly significant, as one of a handful of English players to have played in Grand Finals in both the Super League and the NRL – in addition to winning three consecutive Challenge Cup Finals with St Helens from 2006-8, and being named Super League’s Man of Steel in 2008.
He was co-captain of Canterbury Bulldogs in his second NRL Grand Final appearance in 2014.
He returned to St Helens from St George Illawarra earlier this year in the hope of adding a second Super League Grand Final win, 14 seasons after his first.
Shaun Wane said: “Whilst I totally understand James’s reason for retiring from international rugby, I am personally disappointed I will never get the chance to coach him. His record says everything about him – a true English great. I have watched every Test Match he’s played in, and always admired his competitive spirit and win at all costs attitude. I wish him well.”
James Graham said: “Playing for England and GB, and representing all the people that have been a part of your career, is just simply an honour. I know it sounds cheesy but every time I’ve sung the anthem, I’ve looked to the sky and thought about those people. It saddens me that I won’t get to have that feeling as a player again.
“Without doubt the highlight is the series-clinching victory over the Kiwis at Anfield two years ago. I can’t speak highly enough of that group of men. After the World Cup in 2017 we had become so close, but we needed to cap it off with some silverware. We managed to do it in one of the best games of Rugby League played in this country in my opinion.
“On a personal level with the emotions of playing in my home city and having friends and family in the stadium to watch, that game will always be so special to me.
“I will always be a passionate supporter of England Rugby League – and I’ll be cheering on Shaun Wane and the lads at the World Cup next year.”
James Graham career statistics
Great Britain (Test caps) (2006-2007, 2019) 9 apps (3 tries)
England (Caps) (2008-2018) 44 apps (3 tries)
England (Other) (2011) 1 app
St Helens (2003-2011, 2020) 232 apps (54 tries)
Canterbury Bulldogs (2012-2017) 135 apps (9 tries)
St George Illawarra Dragons (2018-2020) 51 apps (1 try)
Total: 472 appearances, 70 tries.