James Graham says emotional St Helens return nearly did not happen amid travel worry

JAMES Graham has revealed his fairytale farewell from rugby league almost did not happen – for political and sporting reasons.

The England prop was originally told he could not leave Australia and had he been forced to stay, he would have quit.

Graham walked away with the Super League trophy in his hand after St Helens’ dramatic Grand Final win after returning from the NRL.

However, the 35-year-old told of the ‘mass panic’ he had to get home after authorities said he could not return – and he admitted he was ready to retire mid-season at St George-Illawarra Dragons.

He said: “They wouldn’t let me leave the country. I got an e-mail on the Thursday saying my application had been rejected, I had to re-apply, with no apparent reason as to why it had been rejected.

“There was mass panic. I was scheduled to fly on the Monday evening but I got my confirmation that I could fly at 2pm that day.

“My head was spinning to be honest. I was disheartened with how the season was going at St George and after one defeat I said to Paul Wellens, ‘I think I’m ready to hang them up, I’m ready to quit.'

“He said, ‘What at the end of the season?’ I was like, ‘No, now.’

“But he said, ‘Why don’t you speak to Saints about replacing Luke Thompson?’ I said, ‘I’m not talking about next year, I’m talking about now.’

“However he replied, ‘Tommo’s leaving. He’s coming over soon.’

“We’d been talking about the possibility of next season, the dynamics of that conversation changed. I wanted to come back and the coach was happy with that.”

Graham will return to Sydney to start life after playing, hopefully with a role at St George and media work with Fox Sports.

He will also have an operation on his hip, which he describes as ‘usually reserved for the elderly.’

But the buzz of Jack Welsby’s try after the hooter that gave Saints an 8-4 win – after a wait for video confirmation – may not have left him.

Graham told the club: “I’ve watched the highlights back but I get nervous about what could happen.

“I didn’t want to go off too early before it was official then have to come back to earth and reality then try and map out what extra time would be like.

“I was all over the place as Wigan’s bench was cheering and saying, ‘He’s offside,’ but the fourth official said, ‘James, it’s going to be a try.’”


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