'Bitter-sweet' moment for skipper after Wigan Warriors man misses out

James Graham has described his selection as the new Great Britain captain - in place of Warriors star Sean O'Loughlin - as a 'bitter-sweet' moment.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 6:09 pm
Sean O'Loughlin (right) with James Graham on international duty

The former St Helens prop, who is now the senior player at St George Illawarra, has led England in the past and will lead the team in this weekend's inaugural World Cup Nines in Sydney.

With regular captain Sean O'Loughlin and vice-captain Sam Burgess both missing through injury, Graham was the obvious choice of coach Wayne Bennett to lead the re-formed Lions in the Test matches against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

"It is a bit bitter-sweet," Graham said. "In an ideal world Sean would be fit and available as well as Sam and those two would have been ahead of me.

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"Also with the candidates that are still available, people like Gareth Widdop, who has captained St George Illawarra, and Josh Hodgson, who captained Canberra to a Grand Final, it's pretty humbling to be leading out the team."

The 34-year-old Graham is the only member of Wayne Bennett's 24-man squad with previous Great Britain experience and he is delighted to see the return of the iconic brand.

"For me and some of the older lads, we probably grew up with the ambition and dream of playing for Great Britain," he said.

"Obviously that changed with England coming in for the past 12 years but I can remember watching Great Britain against Australia, the Jonathan Davies try at Wembley and winning with 12 men, things like that stick in the mind.

"I remember watching people like Paul Wellens, Paul Sculthorpe, Andy Farrell, Phil Clarke and that ilk, that's where you want to be.

"Obviously there is a lot of history and tradition, it's something that really resonates with the fans of our sport."

Graham is one 11 members of England's 16-man Nines squad staying on for the Lions tour and they will be joined by 13 players from Wigan, St Helens and Salford who were still involved in the latter stages of the Super League play-offs.

Four of the England players are still on stand-by for the Lions and Graham says for those on the fringes, it will present an invaluable opportunity to sample international rugby league and catch the eye of Bennett.

"There are some lads that will come in and get a taste of it," he said. "Wayne spoke today about players auditioning for a potential spot should it become available.

"The national team is always evolving, injuries and form can play a huge part in the make-up of the team and Wayne likes to know what he's getting when he brings in new players.

"The lads get to experience the week in Sydney and see how good the environment is and get a taste for it.

"The next challenge for them to go home and say to themselves 'I want to be a part of that next time he picks a squad'."