England can make statement against New Zealand, says James Graham

Posted by On 12:55 PM

England can make statement against New Zealand, says James Graham

The Observer England rugby league team England can make statement against New Zealand, says James Graham

• Tourists arrive for series on back of beating Australia
• Graham says international game is in best of health

James Graham in action against France last week.
James Graham in action against France last week. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Action Images

James Graham believes international rugby league is in its rudest health for some time and wants a new-look England side to underline their credentials as the closest contenders to the world champions, Australia, by making a statement of intent aga inst New Zealand this autumn.

These are fascinating times for the international game. With Tonga emerging as a force in last year’s World Cup, England’s improvement under Wayne Bennett and the slightest glimmer of a chink in the Kangaroos’ armour after the retirement of Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, the road to the next World Cup in 2021 will be captivating.

Tom Johnstone puts marker down for Test series in England stroll past France Read more

Graham says it would be foolish to label the Australians vulnerable but he admits there is a changing landscape. “You’ve seen with the World Cup, New Zealand beating Australia last week and our own performances, the strength of the game,” he says. “I think it’s great. That’s before you consider Samoa and Fiji, too, so the game is healthy.”

New Zealand arrive in England for the three-Test series, which begins in Hull on Saturday, fresh from beating the Kangaroos. The Kiwis disappoi nted in the World Cup, losing to Fiji in the quarter-finals, but Graham says Michael Maguire’s side will pose an opportune yardstick for a much younger England side, who began their autumn programme with a 44-6 win over France on Wednesday. “They are such a talented group,” he says. “We saw them perform really strongly against Australia and they are coming over here to give their best.”

England are without Ryan Hall, Gareth Widdop and Sam Burgess because of injury but Graham, his country’s most capped player, is keen to see how the next generation fare. “Granted, there are some talented players who are unavailable but that doesn’t really matter. Let’s focus on who is here and get behind them because they’ve got the chance to impress, and they’re doing that so far in training and in the game against France in Leigh.”

One of those, the St Helens forward Luke Thompson, is a player Graham keeps an eye on. “I’ve followed Luke’s career since he broke through,” says Graham, likewise a former Saints junior. “We didn’t get to play together but you can see he’s one hell of a competitor. He’s a real up-and-coming forward.”

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Source: Google News New Zealand | Netizen 24 New Zealand

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