'Slow Pommy' leaves lasting legacy in NRL

Matt Encarnacion
James Graham will be remembered in the NRL for his work ethic, says Dragons coach Paul McGregor

James Graham's work ethic and ability to play with pain will be his lasting legacy in the NRL, according to St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor.

Graham was on Thursday formally released from the NRL club, freeing him for an emotional return to former club St Helens in the Super League.

"I'm definitely leaving with a heavy heart - this club and the people involved have done so much for me over the past two and a half years," Graham said.

"It wasn't an easy decision, but the opportunity to return and play for the club I've supported since I was eight, and whose system I was in from 11, was the right thing for me to pursue as I reach the end of my career."

McGregor hailed the 34-year-old Englishman's tenacity, which has been his calling card since arriving in Australia and joining Canterbury in 2012.

Graham played 135 games across six seasons with the Bulldogs, before adding another 51 in three years with the Dragons.

"The legacy he'll leave is his work ethic, the young players that have been here and coming through while he's been here, (know) what it takes," McGregor said.

"He plays the game the right way. He plays it very physical.

"He's got a great threshold for pain. The players have seen what he goes through and how he gets his body prepared to compete at his best each weekend.

"The biggest thing the players will get is every video session you see this white, slow Pommy chasing everything around the field.

"Even though he knows he can't get to where he needs to get to, he still forces himself to be in a position on escort and kick-pressure, working off the ball."

McGregor said moves were afoot on a replacement, with the club looking to add two more players before the new cut-off date of August 1.

Parramatta prop Daniel Alvaro has been mentioned as a possible option, as has Newcastle forward Herman Ese'ese and Cronulla's Billy Magoulias.

"We're certainly in the market looking for some players," said McGregor. "We need to get two more spots filled before a certain date."

Graham's departure allows the likes of off-contract forwards Josh Kerr and Jacob Host to put forward their case for a new deal.

Youngster Jackson Ford, who re-signed with the club in May, will make his first appearance of the season in Friday's clash with the Sydney Roosters.

"He debuted late last year and has been waiting for this opportunity, and this opportunity comes tomorrow night," McGregor said of Ford.

"Jacob Host moves to the centre, fills the middle of the field for our forward pack, which he's done before.

"He's not a 40-gamer, and he's off-contract, so Jacob will be looking for a big game as well."