One last Battle of Britain

Slammin' Sam is set to face the British Bulldog one last time, and on the biggest stage of them all.

It promises to be bigger than The Beatles, Sean Connery and Queen Vicky all dumped into a pint of warm of lager.

Ever since Burgess and Graham clashed so memorably in 2012 in the famed Battle of Britain, when two of the mother nation’s finest came together in a collision of indecipherable accents and 230 kilos of pasty English flesh, the antipodeans have salivated.

Now with the second eldest Burgess brother just 80 minutes shy of premiership glory and a picture-perfect send off, his great mate Graham stands in his way, asking him for one last waltz.

But while Sam will depart our fair shores within weeks of Sunday's final whistle, between them two of the greatest forwards England has ever produced have blazed a modern-day trail that has seen the Brits take to the NRL in recent years like their countrymen flock to the sands of Bondi.

On Sunday night, Sam's 'little' brothers George and Tom will join the pair on the Olympic turf. 

According to league guru David Middleton, only once previously has Australian rugby league's greatest stage featured four English players, back in 1973 when Cronulla's Tommy Bishop, Cliff Watson and Bobby Weir lined up across from Manly's Malcolm Reilly.

With Dogs skipper Michael Ennis in grave doubt due to a fractured foot, Graham could well become the first Englishman to lead a side into a grand final since Bishop did so 41 years ago. 

Should Canterbury triumph under the stewardship of their beloved prop, Graham would be the first ever Brit to raise the Provan-Summons trophy as captain.

Given the impact Burgess and Graham have had in their respective five and three years in the NRL, it's hard to fathom the 29-year-old Bulldog ever doubted he'd be able to make the grade.

"The NRL back home is held in such high regard, it really is," Graham says.

"I can remember watching, and you’d get the highlights package of an Inglis or Hayne or Thurston and thinking, ‘how am I going to go over there and play?’"

Sounds like a wee bit of that self-deprecating British humour, doesn't it? Because Graham has now not only proven himself in the Australian game, but completely redefined what was once thought within the realms of a front-rower’s arsenal, with his silky ball skills only matched by a tremendous six-stroke motor.

With the Burgess twins set to fill the void left by brother Sam next year, and the likes of St. George Illawarra's Mike Cooper and the Warriors Sam Tomkins making genuine fists of their first seasons in the NRL, Graham can see the Old Dart catching up to the southern game.

"As much as I hate to say it, England’s probably behind Australia in terms of rugby league and you can’t argue with that with the results and the quality of personnel that Australia’s produced," Graham admits.

"It’s hard to say sometimes, there’s that stigmatism (of English rugby league) at times and it’s backed up with the results of the English team.

"So it’s a good thing for the English lads to come out here and hold their own.

"It’s pleasing to see English lads, guys like Mike Cooper and Lee Mossop, come out here and not just hold their own but take to the challenge."

As pleasing as it is for the Bulldogs hard man to hear a few more familiar accents around the NRL traps, he admits to feeling blue when he learned Burgess would not be among them in 2015.

"Disappointed to be honest, really disappointed for the game," Graham says when asked his initial response to Burgess's defection to English rugby outfit Bath on a three-year deal.

"As a code we need people like him and we need people like Sonny Bill (Williams) and people like Benji Marshall to want to stay. 

"And this isn't an attack on the code. For me, I love rugby league and I want to see the best athletes and the best people for the game stay in the game. And it's happened in England with outside backs that England have produced, straight away rugby union clubs are coming after them."

While the pair have been roommates whenever they're on international duty since 2007, Graham says he didn't have a clue as to Burgess's meetings with rugby officials while they were in the UK for last year's World Cup, quipping that Burgess "can keep a secret."

And in the same fashion he attempts to pour cold water over what looms as the biggest one-on-one battle of the 2014 decider.

"Honestly, I don't think there is as much in it as people make out," Graham says of one last personal battle with Burgess. 

"He plays in the middle; I play in the middle, there’s going to be times when we tackle each other."

And don't the natives just love it?