James Graham reveals how off-field incident prompted St Helens move

James Graham will go down in St Helens folklore for the way in which he played the game.

But, after leaving Super League back in 2011 for the NRL, almost ten years later nobody perhaps predicted that Graham would return to where it all started.

However, after a few less than successful seasons with St George Illawarra – after playing six superb seasons with the Canterbury Bulldogs – the flame-haired enforcer was on his way back to St Helens.

And, here is how it all happened.

“I joined St George in 2018 and we had an unbelievable year, we were out the blocks and a good side, and if the stars had aligned we might have won the Premiership but we lost three of our best players,” Graham told the Physio Spill podcast.

“The end of that season, something happened off the field which really rocked the playing group and so 2019 wasn’t much of a year but I sort of had real hope for 2020.

“That issue, however, didn’t get resolved but I still thought we can really do something here, but the season didn’t start well and the season got shut down cos of Covid.”

Graham revealed that his heart just wasn’t in it anymore at St George.

“I was 34 at the time, I thought to myself ‘if this Covid stops the season I don’t know if I will play again’.

“I was off contract and had a few conversations with Mike Rush at St Helens about coming back for 2021.

“We came back through Covid, i was hopeful but we lost our next two and I realised that that common goal I wanted to get wasn’t going to happen at St George.

“It wasn’t worth putting myself in potential situations for a cause that I had started to lose belief in –  it was going to take a miracle for us to get to the finals.”

That disbelief and urge to retire on the spot set the ball rolling for an unlikely renaissance with St Helens – almost a decade after he first left.

“I spoke to a few people and said I think I’m going to retire now.

“Paul Wellens was like ‘do you know Luke Thompson is going to the Bulldogs?’

“He went to Canterbury early and a spot opened at St Helens, so I phoned Mike Rush, the Saints CEO, and it was long odds.

“A few things needed to happen for me to come back, we didn’t know when Super League was coming back after the pandemic – if at all.

“I’d just bought a house over here and I had to calculate the risk of going back to the club where I made my name at.”

Of course, the rest is history, and Graham steered St Helens to two titles in two seasons before hanging up his boots for good at the end of 2020.

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