Players' job to ensure All Stars stays: Graham
Ahead of his first NRL All Stars appearance, England and Canterbury prop James Graham says he loves the concept and hopes it will be here for the long term –which it will be if the players put on a good show.
Speaking at an NRL All Stars Youth Summit Workshop on Surfers Paradise in the lead-up to Friday night's match, Graham said he was incredibly privileged to be part of such a huge event in the game's calendar.
"I was lucky enough to get the call up and I'm really excited at the prospect of being part of such a big game," he said.
"I'm really pleased to be a part of this – it's a huge event in the NRL calendar. I'm just really shocked, privileged and honoured to be a part of it to tell you the truth."
The Merseysider said it was clear that the Indigenous side was immensely proud to be representing their heritage, and that in itself made it crucial that the NRL All Stars gave the game their best shot. However, combined with each player's innate competitiveness, there would be no question over whether players would be taking the contest seriously.
"Obviously they're immensely proud to be representing the Indigenous team and for us it's something [coach] Wayne [Bennett] spoke about, what it means to them and we have a role in that, to help bring this game to the forefront of the NRL calendar," he said.
"I don't think it would be fair or right if we didn't take it seriously and we've got a responsibility to the game to make sure we go out there and do our best and hopefully this game can stay on the calendar. Obviously it wasn't on the calendar last year for whatever reason but as a rugby league fan I want to see it around for years to come."
To ensure the game does last, the onus is on the players to put on a good show.
"We've got a responsibility that we want the game to be here for years to come so people won't want to bother if one side doesn't look like they can't be bothered.
"For me personally, and I think I'd be speaking for all the boys here, we're all competitive people and rugby league's a relatively simple game so although we've only had a week together, in terms of game plan, most teams run the same sort of shape and the same sort of plays so it's just a matter of falling into that and just wanting to get out there and have a go."
Graham is the only Bulldog in the NRL All Stars side, which means while he will be lining up alongside all his new teammates for the first time, he also gets a chance to join forces with plenty of players he's had some battles with at club and Test level such as Paul Gallen, Jarred Waerea-Hargreaves and Jesse Bromwich.
"It's a new experience for me, I don't think I've played with any of the boys in the team. It'll be pretty nice to play alongside them rather than against them I guess!" he laughed.
"It looks like there are a lot of big boys in there and it will be good for me to play alongside them."