World Cup - Australia v England: Evidence is there that England can end long wait – Graham

James Graham addresses the press during England's training run at Lakeside Stadium Albert Park Melbourne Australia.  picture: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
James Graham addresses the press during England's training run at Lakeside Stadium Albert Park Melbourne Australia. picture: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
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England’s most-capped player is aiming to fill in a blank in Friday’s opening World Cup match against Australia.

Canterbury Bulldogs forward James Graham cannot remember how many times he has faced the Kangaroos on his way to winning his 33 England caps but knows he has never been on the winning side.

The former St Helens favourite made his Great Britain debut in the 2006 Tri-Nations Series Down Under but missed out on the 23-12 victory over Australia in Sydney that year.

That was the last time the Kangaroos lost to either England or Great Britain but Graham is hoping their 11-year winning run will come to an end at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium, where Australia benefited from a contentious decision to disallow a late touchdown from Ryan Hall to win in the 2014 Four Nations Series 16-12.

“I have never been in a team that has managed to get the victory over them,” said Graham. “And 2006 is a very long time.”

Graham was in the England team that went down 36-18 in their most recent meeting with Australia, at London Stadium last November, but agrees with head coach Wayne Bennett’s assessment that progress is being made, pointing to the impressive win over Samoa in the one-off Test in Sydney in May.

“Yes, I think so,” he said. “I think you can see that, the way the camp has been these past 10 days and you look back to the Samoa game so, certainly if he says something like that, I would agree with him.

“You look for evidence and I think that’s there.”

The likely prize for the victors in the opening match of the 2017 World Cup is the avoidance of a trip to Auckland to face New Zealand for a place in the December 2 final but Bennett and captain Sean O’Loughlin have both spoken of the potential to draw confidence from a narrow defeat and Graham is happy to toe the party line.

“I do not really like to talk too much in hypotheticals,” he said. “The performance is the big one for us and we want to compete and perform well for 80 minutes.

“It is going to be incredibly difficult but that is what we are looking for, to be competitive and give ourselves an opportunity to win the game.

“We know we have to turn up on every play. It takes 80 minutes to win and only one moment to lose it.”

England will give a debut to Graham’s replacement at St Helens, former Batley prop Alex Walmsley, and a recall to former team-mate Jonny Lomax, who takes over from Stefan Ratchford at full-back.

Graham, 32, played alongside a young Lomax in his last three seasons at Saints and says it will be a proud moment to run out alongside him, knowing the injury heartache he has had to overcome to get to this point.

“I’m so happy to see Jonny representing England because I know more than most how hard he has had to work to get in this position, not just with injuries but getting in the first team and those teenager years,” Graham said.

“He was this little quiet lad at Saints who never ever spoke but thankfully he talks to me now.”

England will not have to face up to the Haka during their World Cup group games but they will be subjected to a form of Australian war cry.

Injured Kangaroos half-back Johnathan Thurston will lead his team through an historic pre-game performance at AAMI Park in a tribute to the nation’s indigenous heritage.

Encouraged by coach Mal Meninga, Thurston flew to Melbourne this week to rehearse the act with his Australian team-mates and will play a key role in the performance before the World Cup opener against Wayne Bennett’s men.

While details are being kept secret, Australia captain Cameron Smith is expected to lead a formation of Kangaroos in the shape of a boomerang with Thurston providing the words to accompany it.

“At the Anzac Test at the start of the year, Mal wanted to have a discussion about doing something for the World Cup,” said Thurston.

“We didn’t know what it was going to be. I went home and was injured for a while. I was back and forth with Mal and I wrote something down and sent it through to Mal.

“He loved it. It’s stuff about what we spoke about at the Anzac Test. The chevron, the coat of arms, the acknowledgement to country but also what we’re trying to do with the RISE campaign.

“Years ago, the Kangaroos attempted something like this, it’s about uniting the team. Also what we stand for. It’s going to be pretty special.”

RISE is a campaign by refugee survivors and ex-detainees to lobby the Australian government to uphold international human rights.

Friday’s historic performance will mark 50 years since a war cry was used by the Kangaroos and the occasion has not been lost on Meninga, who has South Sea Island heritage.

“This is not specifically a war cry – but an acknowledgement,” said Meninga. “Importantly, it was driven by the players.”

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