England's grand invasion
For James Graham, not making a grand final would be an unsettling break with routine.
Playing with mighty St Helens, the 27-year-old Canterbury forward has appeared in the last six successive grand finals going into his rematch with compatriot Sam Burgess on Saturday night – where he hopes to secure his place in a seventh.
St Helens have not missed an appointment with Old Trafford since 2005. They’ve won just once in that time, however, with Wigan and Leeds getting the better of them on the other occasions.
But as an average margin of 30 points on the first weekend of the Super League play-offs last weekend illustrated, there are big differences between the competitions at this time of year.
“The hype around the game in Australia compared to the game in England is huge,” says Burgess, who clashed with Graham when they last met in round 13.
“There’s a big build-up, it feels like a big game ... it’s a huge pinnacle in the sport. It’s big back home but Australia just pips it. Finals football, it’s the talk of everyone when it’s on.
“(Saturday) was one of the most vocal crowds I’ve seen in three years here.”
By comparison with Graham’s eternally successful Bulls, Burgess’ former club Bradford has been at death’s door this year. The Bulls last featured in a grand final the last year St Helens missed out – 2005.
Speaking on radio at the weekend, Burgess said the decision of new coach Michael Maguire (formerly of Wigan) to stop talk of history, premierships and to keep show business at a distance has made a difference on the field.
“I think to some extent it does,” Burgess told the ABC. “We’re certainly aware of the history and great tradition at the club.
“We’ve got history timelines up at our training ground at the club ... but Michael’s approach is we just focus on the week in front and the only thing we can control is our performance and preparation.
“(That approach) seems to have worked well for us this season and while it’s been working, the boys have really brought into that.”
As predicted by Malcolm Reilly in today’s Daily Telegraph, a flood of Britain’s best can be expected in the NRL now the salary cap is poised to go up and the exchange rate stays strong.
“I’d imagine more of the English boys will come over here,” said Burgess.
“Not only is it a great competition, it’s a great lifestyle out here and I think myself, my brothers, James Graham, Gareth Widdop and Gareth Ellis out here, we’ve made a good go of it.
“I’m sure we’ll see a few more in years to come.”
One of these days, James Graham will actually miss a grand final. But by the looks of things, there’ll be a countryman to replace him.