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Dragons prop James Graham.

James Graham isn't wearing the captain's armband and says suggestions of picking up the coach's clipboard are premature, but not necessarily wide of the mark.

But in just six weeks the star recruit is already proving himself a second skipper to Gareth Widdop and unofficial coaching assistant at the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Graham has clarified reports suggesting his Dragons deal – until the end of 2020 with the final season an option in his favour – would be supplemented by another two years in a coaching role.

A move into the coach's box was discussed briefly during negotiations, but "there's nothing on paper" about the 32-year-old's post-playing career.

"We had some discussions about potentially (coaching) but that can be misconstrued so easily," Graham said.

"I've thought about (coaching). I'd love to stay in the game. It's all I've known since I came out of high school at 16, 17.

"I'd love to stay in this game and part of me would love to go on and test myself in a different avenue.

"I'd love to give back to this game that has given me so much but after all this I don't know. I'm only early 30s so we'll have to see."

The evolution of McGregor’s coaching style

The Dragons knew they were getting a leader of rare calibre when they lined up the big Brit last year, with head of recruitment Ian Millward doubling as Graham's first senior coach in another lifetime.

As coach at St Helens in 2003, Millward handed a 17-year-old flame-haired scouser his Super League debut, and Graham duly threw the kitchen sink into everything he did in the game for the next 15 years.

"He's always been a very talented front-rower with a lot of passion and enthusiasm," Millward told

"That's the biggest thing I've noticed, that passion and enthusiasm, it's still no different to the 18-year-old I coached in England.

"The only thing that's changed is his composure as a person, and with the experience he's accumulated he's very generous with his time and advice."

When Graham plumped for the red and white once more after six seasons at Belmore, Millward's early influence proved pivotal.

Since arriving at the Dragons Graham has cracked the whip as expected, driving the likes of Blake Lawrie and Tariq Sims to personal bests in a beep test, screaming away in that famous Liverpool accent for them to keep pushing on his first day at the club.

The work ethic Graham puts down to Millward's coaching all those years ago is now combined with a willingness to mentor in the same fashion.

That passion and enthusiasm, it's still no different to the 18-year-old I coached in England.

Ian Millward on James Graham

Paul McGregor is also suitably impressed with Graham's "very good footy IQ", but understandably the Dragons are reluctant to talk him up as a coach-in-waiting having just forked out for three playing years from the Englishman.

In the meantime, Widdop will lead the side as Graham settles into his new digs and McGregor will coach as per usual – with a helping hand on both fronts.

"Young guys like Blake Lawrie and Josh Kerr, Jimmy's been very helpful for them in a short time already," Millward said.

"The players feel calm with him because there's no barriers with James and he can talk to anyone, and that's the bloke I knew in England.

"It's not always the visible things that can make a coach, it's very tough on your family and is a huge commitment. I wouldn't want to label anyone as a coach in waiting.

"But players are very comfortable around him and they're comfortable asking a question of him, knowing that they'll get a caring response.

"That's the biggest thing because it can be hard for young players, it can be intimidating with a senior player.

"But James looks back on everything he does through his first experiences in footy. He's very open with the help he got as a young guy and he's very conscious about being the same kind of senior player."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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