Determined Graham strives for excellence in pursuit of glory

The disappointment of semi-final defeat five years ago still lingers for England’s James Graham but, as he tells Dave Craven, he is determined to take the chance to erase that painful memory

James Graham
James Graham

THAT this, in theory, should be England’s best chance to win a World Cup is not lost on James Graham.

He was around in 2008 when they fell at this same semi-final stage against New Zealand but that was 12,000 miles away in Brisbane.

Facing the Kiwis at Wembley in front of a largely partisan 65,000 crowd tomorrow, with a similar make-up expected at Old Trafford if they progress, are certainly more favourable conditions.

“It probably is (the best chance) because it’s here and now,” said the Canterbury Bulldogs prop Graham.

“But back in 2008 we probably would have said the same thing as well. It was five years ago so I don’t remember too much, but I remember feeling very disappointed at going out.

“Every time your season finishes on a sour note you’re going to feel huge disappointment.

“We put a lot of effort in and we had a really good team then.

“Our expectation in 2008 was that we wanted to go and win the thing.

“We didn’t, so it was obviously very disappointing. Hopefully, we can build here.”

Just the flame-haired front-row, his former St Helens colleague James Roby and Warrington Wolves second-row Ben Westwood remain from that 2008 side when the nations reconvene tomorrow, but Graham insists there is no sense of unfinished business. “We’re not looking at it like that,” he said.

“It was a different squad then to what it is now so it’s not even come into my thought process.”

Graham was one of a few outstanding performers in last week’s largely disappointing 34-6 quarter-final win over France. With some forceful carrying he has redeemed himself after the indiscretion that led to him being dropped for the tournament opener with Australia.

However, if they are to set up a likely rematch with the Kangaroos in next week’s final, England must find greater consistency, something that has eluded them so far.

When asked how they will progress from the 20-minute purple patch that illuminated the French display to the 80-minute display necessary to bring World Cup holders New Zealand to their knees, he replied: “With great difficulty, I would imagine.

“Concentration is a massive thing and the scenario of the game is going to be different as well.

“With all due respect to France, sometimes if you establish a lead like we did it can affect your decision-making.

“I can only presume that the scenarios on Saturday are going to be different.

“We’re obviously striving for excellence.

“With some of the dropped ball (versus France), we probably didn’t get that and that’s something we’ll be looking to rectify this week.

“I think there’s always room for improvement. We’re striving for perfection because you always want to try and improve.

“We’re in the semi-finals and we wanted to do that.

“The performances have been relatively good and, hopefully, something we can go and build on that now.”

Graham, who moved out to Sydney from St Helens at the end of 2011, knows all about renowned Kiwi second-row Sonny Bill Williams from his time in the NRL.

“He’s world-class, isn’t he?” said the 28 year-old.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best.

“He’s good at everything; he can run with the ball, pass, go into contact and offload and defensively really hurt you too.

“We (Canterbury) came up against him once this year and he played stand-off that day.

“Has he got any weaknesses? From what I’ve seen, not really, no.”

New Zealand do, however, and the question is whether Graham and this England team can exploit them.