Graham exit to give Dragons a big makeover

Scott Bailey
James Graham has requested a release from St George Illawarra to return to the UK

St George Illawarra will have close to $1 million available to shake up their forward pack for next season as they consider granting James Graham an immediate release.

The Dragons confirmed on Thursday they had been approached by Graham about returning to the English Super League this year to return to St Helens.

"The Dragons will consider this option for Graham on the merit a replacement player is secured by the club prior to his release," the club said in a statement.

If Graham does go, his exit will come just months before Tyson Frizell heads north for Newcastle at the end of the year with the pair combined worth around $1 million in the Dragons' salary cap.

Jack de Belin's future also remains up in the air, with the stood-down lock's deal worth around $600,000 set to expire at season's end.

It means Paul McGregor's team can be among the most powerful players in next year's market.

Ryan James, Aiden Tolman, James Tamou and Christian Welch are among the big-name forwards off contract at the end of this year.

Kiwi prop Jesse Bromwich also has his deal expire in Melbourne with an option in his favour for the next two seasons, while David Fifita is expected to remain in Brisbane.

The Saints went some way to locking in their 2021 roster on Wednesday, re-signing winger Mikaele Ravalawa on a three-year deal.

The Dragons are understood to have fought off some competition for his signature, with at least one interstate club showing significant interest in the Fijian.

Graham had only approached Dragons management in the middle of this week about the return home to St Helens as a replacement for Canterbury-bound middle Luke Thompson.

He played 224 games for the English club before leaving for the NRL and Canterbury at the end of 2011 and has since logged 413 top flight games of rugby league.

Joining Canterbury in 2012, Graham helped set the tone for English arrivals following Sam Burgess signing on with Souths in 2010. He changed the way the Bulldogs attacked by functioning as a ball-playing prop.

Graham became the heart and soul of Canterbury under coach Des Hasler, helping take the club to two grand finals and five straight finals series.

However he was forced out of the club at the end of 2017 as part of their salary cap management, and signed a three-year deal with the Dragons.

It has only been this year that the 34-year-old's work rate has dipped significantly, playing just 36 minutes a game.

Graham's request comes days after Issac Luke left the Red V for Brisbane.

Given the Dragons want to secure a replacement before Graham leaves, it is likely he will still face Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon.

The Dragons will have until the start of August to bring a player in mid-season, with the usual June 30 deadline pushed back due to the coronavirus stoppage.