England enforcer James Graham was surprised by criticism of his tackling technique in the Bulldogs’ NRL grand final loss to South Sydney.
Days spent drowning his sorrows with the Bulldogs ensured James Graham was oblivious to criticism of his tackling technique in the NRL grand final.
However, Graham could not hide his surprise when finally confronted with speculation he led with his head in tackles when he lobbed at England’s Four Nations training session on Tuesday.
Graham was painted as the grand final villain after South Sydney’s Sam Burgess broke his cheekbone in the opening tackle and the Canterbury enforcer was later involved in a sickening head clash with Rabbitohs prop David Tyrrell, who was stretchered off.
And all eyes will again be on the man considered the world’s premier prop when he runs out in England’s Four Nations opener against Samoa in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Much to his surprise.
“I don’t know what to say to people who questioned it,” Graham said at England’s camp on the Gold Coast.
“After the grand final you have your end of season festivities which lasted a couple of days so I was probably not up to date with much of what was said.
“I really don’t know how to answer that.
“Maybe my vocabulary doesn’t expand enough to be able to.”
So he did not deliberately lead with his head in tackles?
“You don’t need me to answer that, do you?,” he said.
“How can you go into a tackle thinking you are going to use your head?
“I honestly don’t know how to answer that question.”
The only headache Graham had ahead of the Four Nations was overcoming the pain of England’s dramatic 2013 World Cup semi-final loss.
With England up 18-14 and just 20 seconds away from appearing in the grand final, Kiwi playmaker Shaun Johnson danced his way through to score before nailing the match-winning conversion as Wembley fell silent.
“You try to move on but things like that stay with you,” Graham said.
“That was probably an extra bit harsh because of the circumstances at the end.
“But I don’t think we will use it as motivation – it has happened, it has gone.”
Graham may have remarkably lost a total of seven straight grand finals in his career – the last two with the Bulldogs – but he still has plenty to cheer about thanks to old club St Helens’ recent English Super League success.
While the match was soured by Wigan forward Ben Flower’s sickening assault of Lance Hohaia, Graham was still bouncing around his Sydney livingroom in the early hours last weekend as the Saints ended a five grand final losing run with a 14-6 win.
“I was screaming at the TV. I still have a lot of friends there – they have been waiting a long time,” he smiled.