Evolution the key to Graham's success

Evolution the key to Graham's success

From talented playmaker in his early days to hard-hitting back-rower at the current premiers, Wade Graham knows you can't stand still if you want to be taken seriously in rugby league. 

Graham made his NRL debut as a 17-year-old at the Panthers and spent the next two-and-a-bit seasons steering his side around the park in the halves. 

It's a role he stuck with in his first year at the Sharks, but following two games at five-eighth to start the 2012 season Graham has only played four more times in the halves, with the 26-year-old now one of the elite back-rowers in the competition. 

Whether he's running into holes, bashing blokes in defence or coming up with a tough carry, Graham is your quintessential edge forward.

Except he's not. 

The 2016 premiership winner hasn't forgotten what earned him a shot in first grade, and it's those silky passing skills and his deft left boot that make him one of the best in the business. 

Graham was a beast off the bench in Game One of this year's State of Origin series, wreaking havoc in attack to set up Jarryd Hayne for the match-sealing try while also linking up with fellow Shark James Maloney to bamboozle the Queensland defence.

The pair won a premiership last season but rather than rest on their laurels, Graham and Maloney – along with left-edge backs Ricky Leutele and Sosaia Feki – have reinvented their games, something the young Blue believes is imperative if you want to stay ahead of the curve. 

"I just think that you have to constantly evolve your role and constantly improve and change up what you're doing if you want to keep up with the game," Graham told NRL.com this week at the Blues' hotel in Kingscliff. 

"The NRL has got so many good players so if you don't have different options in your game, they'll figure you out pretty quickly and you won't be as effective. As a result, you've got to work hard at training and have different options and things available to you. 

"That's what Jimmy and I always try to do. I know that we get plenty of raps at Cronulla on that left-hand side, but the young boys outside of us in Ricky and Fek do a tremendous job as well and we're always constantly challenging ourselves to be better in different areas and to try new things."

A match-winner off the bench in Game One, Graham didn't quite have the same impact in the 18-16 loss to the Maroons at ANZ Stadium which has left the Blues needing to steal a win in enemy territory to claim a rare series triumph. 

The highs of the series-opening win were quickly replaced by scenes of utter heartbreak in the Olympic Park sheds, with NSW skipper Boyd Cordner a shattered man after the game. 

It's the sort of setback that can derail a campaign, but according to Graham the pain of the Origin II loss will only serve as a motivator heading into the July 12 decider.  

"It's a good sign because it shows how much we care, how much it means to us and how disappointed we were," he said. 

"You put everything into it and at the end of the day, sometimes you're not going to have the result go your way. The effort and the intensity in which that game was played made it a brilliant spectacle. 

"Obviously it was disappointing to lose – and you could feel that – but what we did in Game One earned us an opportunity to come here for Game Three and still have the series open. 

"We're really excited about the opportunity in front of us and you can tell the fans are as well because there's clearly a newfound energy at the moment that makes it really special to be a part of."