x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

James Graham eyes final farewell

The captain will be playing his last match for St Helens, wishing his Super League club had won more titles.

James Graham will lead out his St Helens side on Saturday determined to end a five-year Grand Final hoodoo.

The Saints have lost their last five trips to Old Trafford since winning their fifth title in 2006 - three of them against the Leeds Rhinos, Saturday's opponents, and last year against the Wigan Warriors.

But should the Saints turn things around against the Rhinos they will still be long-term losers.

The final will be the last time co-captain Graham - he shares the duties with the fullback, Paul Wellens - plays in a St Helens shirt before he starts a new career in Australia, where he will ply his trade with the Canterbury Bulldogs.

And his teammates will be driven by a desire to send off the 6ft, 106kg forward with a second Super League ring to add to the one he won in 2006.

The Great Britain prop, 26, has been immense for St Helens over the past few years and will be leaving the north-west of England with some regret, not least the lack of trophies despite the dominance of St Helens over the past decade.

"I'm not going to lie," he said in an interview. "I would have liked more winners' medals than the current return. Teams have two or three good years and have a couple off while rebuilding. But we have consistently reached every Challenge Cup semi-final and Grand Final for how many years now?

"It is an achievement for a club to maintain that level of consistency. At the end of the day though, we want a bigger return."

The powerhouse prop, England's finest forward and the 2008 Man of Steel, should be a big hit in Australia with his combative style of play.

Saints will want to see him on his way by winning the top trophy in the English game. But first they will have to see off a Leeds side who have hit a rich vein of form.

The Rhinos finished only fifth in the regular season but they shocked the Warrington Wolves, the league leaders' trophy winners, 26-24 last weekend, and they have won all five of their matches since their 28-18 Challenge Cup final defeat by Wigan.

They also have a match winner playing his last game for the club, with Danny Buderus returning to the NRL to rejoin the Newcastle Knights.

"Everybody wrote us off before the play-offs started but we have the momentum and we are a very dangerous team at the moment," the former Australia hooker, said.

Leeds were badly hit by injuries at the start of the season and had to play the first two month without key players Jamie Peacock, the Great Britain captain, and the stand-off Danny McGuire, but they are now back and firing on all cylinders as the Rhinos look to have come good at just the right time.

It should be quite a clash on Saturday.

sentwistle@thenational.ae