Prolific point-scoring North Queensland winger Ashley Graham has vowed not to give up on his State of Origin dream despite his latest omission from the Queensland squad for the series opener in Melbourne next Wednesday.
Club insiders have told NRL.com that Graham, the NRL’s top try-scorer this season with 11 from 10 games, was left devastated when told over the weekend that he had been beaten into the Queensland side by team-mate and good friend Brent Tate.
Given incumbent Queensland right-winger Jharal Yow Yeh’s season-ending ankle injury, Graham admitted he thought this would be his best chance yet to wear a Maroons jersey after 11 seasons in the top grade. Although disappointed to be left out yet again the flyer insisted he would never give up hope of living out his childhood dream in 2012.
“I probably gave myself every chance to be selected, so to be overlooked… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” he said.
“In saying that, it’s a three-game series and you never know what can happen. I’m definitely not going to bury my head in the sand. I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing on the field and see what happens.
“Not getting picked for Game One isn’t going to make me take my foot off the pedal. I still want a jersey and I’ll still do everything I can to get one. Every Queensland kid wants to play for the Maroons, so it’s definitely a goal of mine.”
Tate’s selection on the wing for Queensland comes as no great surprise given that he is already a proven Origin performer with 15 games for the Maroons behind him – although Graham can consider himself somewhat unlucky that his Cowboys team-mate and right-side partner has also struck a rich vein of form in recent weeks.
Graham won the club’s Player of the Year award last season with 12 tries and an average 138 metres per game and has only improved in 2012, having almost matched last year’s try tally with 14 games remaining.
“I knew with the year I had last year and the start to the year I had this year that I definitely had a chance (to play for Queensland),” Graham said. “With the type of footy that I’ve been playing it’s the best opportunity I’ve had so far.
“Like I said, I’m disappointed – but it’s not like Tatey didn’t deserve his chance either. He has been playing outstanding footy as well… and at least it was another Cowboy, I suppose!”
Asked about his try-scoring feats this season, Graham said: “It’s been a pretty good start to the year for me. Obviously I’ve been scoring a lot of tries but when you look at it I’m just capitalising on what the guys inside me are creating. JT and Matty Bowen have been outstanding so far this year. So yeah, I’m happy with my form but I guess that’s a reflection of how the whole team is playing at the moment.”
Graham’s impressive strike rate this season has him on track to break Matt Bowen’s club record for most tries in a year (22 in 2007) and he admits it is an achievement he would love to steal from the veteran Cowboys fullback.
More pressing, though, is the matter of beating Penrith this weekend minus Origin quartet Tate, Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott and James Tamou.
The Cowboys have traditionally struggled with the representative season but Graham said he was confident that the remainder of the squad was experienced enough to continue the side’s impressive start to 2012.
“Origin period is always a tough period for a lot of teams and when we lose guys like Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott it definitely takes a lot out of our team – but we’ve got the depth at the club now to cover that,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the world can fill JT’s boots but a guy like Michael Morgan has NRL experience and the skills to fill the void.
“There are a few guys now that have been around for a while so there is a fair bit of experience in the team. I think the young guys here know what they’re doing when they get on the field anyway, and I definitely try and help out where I can too.”