Young Dragons to fill Graham's NRL boots

Scott Bailey
James Graham (c) is to leave the Dragons and return to English Super League big guns St Helens

St George Illawarra's young forwards say the time is right to step up and fill James Graham's boots at the NRL club.

Graham's release to St Helens is imminent, with the English prop not named for Friday's clash with the Sydney Roosters and having played his last game for the Dragons.

In his place, St George Illawarra have a new group coming through, with Josh Kerr having started for the past three weeks and Blake Lawrie becoming a regular.

And while their 57 matches combined go nowhere near meeting Graham's 414 games of first-grade experience, they acknowledge the onus is on them to lift.

"Kerry and myself are at the time of our careers where we need to step up," said Lawrie, who will start this week ahead of Kerr.

"We've played a bit of first grade now.

"Being young never was an excuse but we've got to step up and be a first grader, not just a young fella learning his way."

Graham was still at Dragons training on Tuesday, completing extras as usual in what might be a final reminder for the young duo on what was required to excel in the NRL.

He still managed 124 metres off the bench in Saturday's win over Gold Coast, exiting the club with two wins after their poor start to the year.

"I probably wouldn't be playing NRL at the moment if it wasn't for his and a few others' guidance," Kerr said.

"Over the last few years, he has helped me so much. It's not just coming up and talking to me - it's more about how he trains.

"He inspires the guys like myself and young boy Lawrie.

"The way he applies himself at training and how hard he works, it's incredible for someone his age and how many games he's played.

"It's my time to pick up where he left off and do the best I can."

At this stage, it appears unlikely the Dragons will sign an immediate replacement, but have until August to do so for this season.

Their young pack will have a massive test without him on Friday, up against the two-time defending premiers Roosters with Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves leading the charge.

But Kerr said it was the challenge he'd been waiting for, after making a name for himself earlier this year in the Indigenous All-Stars match.

"It reminds me of the All-Stars game, coming up against an international forward pack," Kerr said.

"They have a very aggressive big forward pack.

"All I am thinking at the moment is I have waited a long time for this moment to see how I go against the calibre of players."